Buying Low: Jason Kipnis

In professional golf, Saturday is dubbed “Moving Day” because players must go low to give themselves a chance on the final day. Without positioning themselves near the top of the leaderboard with a good round on Saturday, it becomes very difficult to challenge for a championship.

I’ve always thought the month of May in fantasy baseball was kind of like Moving Day in professional golf. Sure, it’s early in the season, but it’s the month in which owners can take advantage of the trade market to improve their roster for the championship push. Many owners can become impatient with players who experienced unexpected slow starts in April, which is prime time to buy low — if done correctly.

While buy-low options inherently carry risk, it should be mitigated by the low price tag. A year ago in mid-May, I targeted Rickie Weeks as a buy-low option at second base and acquired him in a pair of leagues for next-to-nothing. Weeks underperformed for the rest of May, but hit .260/.344/.445 from June to the end of the season and was a nice power/speed upgrade for my roster.

This year, Rickie Weeks is once again a buy-low candidate for fantasy owners. With his early-season struggles for a second-consecutive season, though, owners may be unwilling to pursue him. Perhaps a better buy-low target is Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians.
The 26-year-old second baseman has spun his wheels out of the gate, hitting only .224/.287/.414 in his first 130 plate appearances of the season. His .299 wOBA ranks 14th amongst qualified second basemen — behind the likes of Howie Kendrick, Dan Uggla and Jedd Gyorko. By most objective measures, he’s been below-average and owners could be getting anxious.

His overall numbers hide a recent upswing at the plate. In the month of May, Kipnis is hitting .261/.314/.609 with three doubles, two triples and three home runs. The batting average isn’t remarkable — and likely won’t ever be — but the power has returned and his worrisome strikeout rate has dropped to 21.6% in May.

Obviously, his 11 games in May is an obscenely small sample size. The key, however, is that his numbers in May are beginning to match what many fantasy owners expected prior to the season. He’s beginning to produce the results that could lead to a 15-20 home run, 20+ stolen base season — and with the unexpected potency of the Indians’ lineup, his run and RBI totals may also take a step forward.

Fantasy owners also have to like the fact that his O-Swing% has dropped to 19.4% this season. Only A.J. Ellis, Nate McLouth and Norichika Aoki swing at fewer pitches outside the strike zone. That suggests his strikeout rate should come down from his lofty 24.6%, and as mentioned earlier, it’s already beginning to do so this month.

Some have pointed out that his contact rate has slipped this year. It has dropped from 83.3% last year to 79.0% in 2013, but most of that drop has taken place out of the strike zone. His contact rate on pitches outside the zone has dropped from 64.3% to 47.9%. His contact rate in the zone, however, has remained relatively consistent at 88.5%, which is only a drop of two percent from last year. And we’ve already established that he doesn’t chase out of the zone very often.

Both the ZiPS and Steamer projections see Jason Kipnis finishing the season with 15+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases. Only Dustin Pedroia, Danny Espinosa and Ian Kinsler accomplished that feat at the second base position a year ago. And Kipnis’ performance thus far in May suggests he’s beginning to live up to those projections right now. Fantasy owners should capitalize on his low full-season numbers and target him in leagues where an upgrade at second base (or middle infield) is needed.

After all, it’s mid-May. It’s Moving Day. It’s time to put your fantasy roster in position for a championship run, and Jason Kipnis would be a lovely addition to most teams — provided the price is right.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


27 Responses to “Buying Low: Jason Kipnis”

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  1. ryanmira says:

    That’s incredible. He hit a HR the exact moment you posted this to Twitter. Touche.

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  2. mark a says:

    The recent May upswing probably means you can’t buy low on him anymore. Unless the owner is just not paying attention, he’s noticed the upswing, too, and the psychological effect is stronger given the previous frustration. Maybe you get an owner that thinks they can sell the hot streak, but I think it’s more likely you end up having to pay full freight.

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  3. SKob says:

    Yeah, Kipnis is about 1-2 weeks past the ‘buy low’ point. If the article was titled ‘Kipnis has finally arrived’, I would think it more appropriate. Only a fool is selling this guy right now!

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  4. KalinesGhost says:

    Has anyone successfully executed the “Buy Low”/”Sell High” in a league not populated with 10 year olds? I’ve never seen it in the leagues I’ve been travelling in for the last 20 years. Nobody’s giving away Kipnis, nobody’s paying through the nose for Loney. These buy low/sell high articles are the most worthless type of fantasy analysis out there.

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    • Zach says:

      Come here, give me a hug.

      In the last nine games, Kipnis has raised his average from…. .203 to….. .224. I’d say that in a league where most of the people don’t go deep enough to even look at the last fifteen days (and that is most leagues, in my experience), getting someone to trade Kipnis for someone less worthy would not only be possible but likely. He has no track record of success (for experienced players like me, that means more than just PROSPECT WHORING from other sites and actually looking at #s), and a lot of owners will look at his career .733 OPS and think, hell, this guy’s willing to give me ___________ for a guy who has heated up to the rate that he’s producing league average #s from a 2b.

      The point is that SOMETIMES sites want to broaden their readership to people who don’t have Kipnis’ slash line memorized. He’s someone you can get for less than what was paid on draft day. Period. End transmission.

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      • Zach says:

        And I’m not suggesting you are “prospect whoring.” But in my opinion the prospect touting sites are more nefarious (and cause owners to have unreal expectations) than a buy low / sell high column. Yes, few people will fall for Loney as being worthy of good return. But to say these columns are worthless is to ignore years of great work by Ron Shandler, who every Friday for years has highlighted a few players about to burst/explode. It ignores, in fact, much of the fantasy writing done in the 90s in newspapers and weekly magazines.

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      • Backdoor Slider says:

        Zach-
        You don’t think Kipnis’ owner hasn’t noticed the .273 4 HRs/2SBs over the last 13 games?

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      • majnun says:

        Yeah, not buying it. Anyone with a pulse has noticed kipnis heating up. The window has closed. Now he may well be worth paying full price for, and that’s an interesting topic.

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      • terracool says:

        But here’s the problem with Zach’s point as it applies to all popular fantasy sites. Sure there may be a few wallflower owners who are oblivious to Kip’s recent performance, good or bad. The real problem is that the second – and I mean the SECOND – that Kip gets published as a good buy low opportunity, the chances tobbuy him low plummet to z ero.

        So I agree that the buy-low sell-high articles are completely useless not because of their premises, quality of conclusion or even timing. They are useless because their very existence makes the recommendation impossible. Similar problem with “grab this guy” or other articles that basically spell out who’s for real and who’s not. As soon as the article hits the net 11 other guys are also trotting off to pick him up. The only truly valuable articles are the “drop this guy” type because only in those cases can an owner have the absolute ability to respond.

        This is not a knock on accuracy. In fact, it’s a testament to the data analysis skill of this and similar sites. I sometimes wonder how a business model can work when your own competence and success can so completely neutralize your effectiveness.

        Although even if the advice (and most definitely in the case of buy low or sell high) negates its own effectiveness, it is at least helpful in that it outlines the right process. But as actionable information? Nada.

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      • Simon says:

        What do you all think full price for Kipnis actually is?

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      • Jay29 says:

        @terracool, I definitely agree that “buy low” articles are paradoxical, in that their existence no longer makes the player available to buy low. BUT, I only think that is the case if the other 11 owners (or the highlighted player’s owner) are likely to read the article.

        There are plenty of leagues where the owners don’t branch out and read anything outside their own host site, or if they do, they just read another major site. So I don’t think a post at FanGraphs necessarily kills the market — especially if the reasons for the article are only apparent in the advanced metrics.

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  5. Backdoor Slider says:

    Was this written on April 27th and on the editor’s desk for 2 weeks?

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  6. Fischer says:

    Any other (notable) players you see as having low price tags at this point, but are worth a “buy?”

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    • Hunterfan says:

      I’m not the author, but Billy Butler? He’s kind of sucking right now, but his peripherals haven’t drastically changed.

      Then again. I’d only pay for him as a .290ish 20 HR guy and think he was a bit over drafted this year.

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    • Backdoor Slider says:

      BJ Upton has extremely low BABIP. Think .250 20/25 still reasonable ROS.
      LaRoche? Willingham?

      These are guys that you may be able to buy cheap…BEFORE they break out.

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      • Hunterfan says:

        I second LaRoche. Heck, if your league is shallow enough, I’ve seen him on the waiver wire.

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  7. doug says:

    not to pile on but I agree with the above. In my points league, Kipnis is the #3 2nd baseman over the last 7 days, #1 last 14 and 21 and #4 last 28. He’s also the 15th highest scoring batter over last 21 and 6th last 14.

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  8. Hunterfan says:

    Unless an owner hates Kipnis and is convinced his last 10 games is just a dead cat bounce, I’m not sure how you’re getting him. Again, two weeks ago, maybe. But not when in the last ten days he’s hit multiple homers, stolen multiple bases, and hit around .280.

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  9. ihefowj says:

    When this pops up he is no longer a buy low candidate

    New Player Note Mon, May 13
    Jason Kipnis hit his fifth home run as the Indians won the first half of Monday’s doubleheader with the Yankees.
    Advice: Kipnis has four home runs and 13 RBI in 12 games this month and could be emerging out of his early-season slump. He’s a nice buy-low candidate in fantasy leagues.
    (Rotoworld.com)

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  10. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I drafted Kipnis, so fortunately I don’t need to buy low on him. Fortunately, I did just manage to buy low on B.J. Upton, giving up Trevor Cahill and Vernon Wells. He seems like a good buy low candidate too.

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    • Jay29 says:

      God I wish I had owners like that in my league. A couple weeks ago I offered up Marte and Eaton for BJ Upton and was instantly denied.

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  11. J.R. says:

    Jason Kipnis is heating up. He’s over the mendoza line folks. He’s on fire but Dan Uggla’s still doing better lol. I don’t think that the buy low window on Kipnis is shut. I’m sure 50 percent of owners realize Kipnis is highly overrated. Josh Rutledge is about the power/speed equivalent of Kipnis and he’s available in many leagues. I’d prefer Rickie Weeks when he’s on fire. Utley even though he’s injury prone. Uggla for the power. Jedd Gyorko or Kyle Seager will both provide better overall stats. Matt Carpenter. 2B is really thin but there are many other options. Sorry if I burst some of your Kipnis bubbles. If I was a Kipnis owner, it wouldn’t matter if he heated up for a week or two. I’d still be looking at a way to get rid of him for something more valuable before he’s exposed as the very average player he’s been his whole career (minus last April and May).

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  12. Zach says:

    Kipnis

    First 35 games: .264/.329/.500
    Next 18 games: .200/.278/.292

    Should have just stayed low.

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  13. Brian says:

    I really have never understood the Kipnis love. He had a great first half last year but if he doesn’t steal, he won’t be an asset. The steals last year came out of nowhere so the odds of them keeping up are slim.

    His career high for steals in the minors was 12, and his career minors slash line was a good but not great .297/.378/.486. If he develops into an 800-850 OPS guy at second, that would be great (and is quite possible) but paying for a guy who you expect to be 25-25 every year I think is a mistake.

    He’s better than his current line but I’m not sure how much. He had high BABIPs in the minors, so I see him checking in ROS a tick below his Triple-A line, I’d say around .270/.345/.470, 10 HR, 10 SB. Is that worth paying for?

    I drafted Kipnis this year but flipped him right away to an owner who loved him. I got Kenley Jansen, Jon Niese, and a draft pick. Niese flopped, but Jansen is great. I’m still happy with the deal.

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    • Stuck in a Slump says:

      I’m not sure how you can come to this conclusion, he’s definitely slumping this year, vs this time last year, but he’s still on pace for 20+ HR and 30+ SB. If you can find a 2B providing that much production for Kanley Jansen I’d be amazed.

      Even if he’s only going to produce another 10/10, that’s still 18-19 HR, and 24 SB. That’s on par with Ian Kinsler and better than Brandon Phillips in 2012.

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  14. sukjo says:

    Just thought I’d say that looking back at this from end-June, so far so good on the buying low thing. Around that time I got Kipnis in a trade and it was working out rather well so far.

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