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Jason Kipnis: In Need of a Second Half

Posted By Howard Bender On October 23, 2012 @ 6:21 pm In Second Base | 2 Comments

If yesterday’s series of articles didn’t clue you in, today’s slate certainly will as we continue to go through Zach Sanders’ Second Base End of Season Rankings and discuss individual performances at the position. One of the most notable things about Mr. Sanders’ list is the value range from top second baseman Robinson Cano’s seemingly low $26 down through Trevor Plouffe’s $1 as the 28th ranked second sacker. That indicates the strength found at the position this season and a rookie such as Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis is just one example of how strong this position has become.

While Bill James’ 2012 projections for second basemen appeared to be on the optimistic side, he actually came pretty close to Kipnis’ final line with an overshoot on power and average but well short on the speed numbers.

PA R RBI HR AVG SB
Bill James Projections 577 88 69 18 .272 18
Jason Kipnis EOS 672 86 76 14 .257 31

Of course, if you account for the extra 95 plate appearances, James overshot on the power a little more than it might seem while he was surprisingly closer to the speed projections, something most pundits though he was way off on.

But how close Kipnis came to his projections isn’t really the story here. He was always a toolsy guy and we expected him to produce well in his first full season. We thought his HR/FB would stabilize and that his BABIP would drop with fewer fly balls leaving the park, but most of us expected him to put forth a solid season. And he delivered, for the most part. Unfortunately he only delivered for half the season. The other half…not so much.

When Kipnis finished the first half of the season, his numbers had All-Star second baseman written all over them. He batted .277 with 11 home runs and 49 RBI and he swiped 20 bags while only being caught once through the first three months. Given the fact that he was, on average, the 14th second baseman off most draft boards and went somewhere around the 13th or 14th round, this was looking like a dream pick-up in a dream season. He had a 15.7-percent strikeout rate, a 9.1-percent walk rate, a line drive rate that sat above 20-percent throughout the first half, and a BABIP that never dipped below .293 for any month. While few imagined that he would duplicate such deliciousness at the plate, no one suspected the drop-off that we were about to witness.

When the All Star break ended and play resumed, Kipnis came out of the gate a little slow. While he improved on his walk rate, everything else he had done had seemingly vanished. Suddenly he was mashing everything into the dirt as his ground ball rate spiked to 51.4-percent in July, his strikeout rate began to climb as he pressed at the plate, and his power was virtually non-existent, as evidenced by his woeful .075 ISO that month. But as bad as things got, there was still plenty of hope and promise.

Unfortunately though, the calendar flipping to August didn’t help things out. Not only did the first two weeks of August go just as poorly as July, but Kipnis also battled a neck issue that hindered him for what seemed to be the rest of the year. He opted to play through the injury and manager Manny Acta obliged by not placing him on the disabled list. He took a few games off, but never really got back to full health as there were countless reports throughout the month regarding his neck stiffness. Though there wasn’t much reference made to it in September, it was clear that this was not the same player we saw cruising through the first three months of the season.

By the end of the year, Kipnis’ overall totals looked rock solid for a rookie second baseman. However, break it down into two halves and you’ve got something more resembling CarGo’s old home/road splits than anything else. The good news, though, is that Kipnis is a tough guy; one of the dirt-dogs as most players like to refer to those that play a strong, hard-nosed, grinding game. He probably won’t come out of the gate as hot as he did this season, but so long as he remains injury-free, he’s not going to finish up the year like he did this time either. He’s still plenty young enough to develop more power and he can probably maintain his speed levels for more than just a few seasons. He certainly hasn’t hit his ceiling, and for that, he’s easily got the potential to finish next year amongst the top players as the second base position.


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