Bullish on Jason Kipnis

kipnisJason Kipnis played in 36 games in 2011 after getting called up in late July by the Cleveland Indians and put up impressive numbers in 150 plate appearances: jacking seven homers and swiping nine bases.  This obviously led to a pre-draft hype in 2012 and through the first half of the season that hype seemed well earned as Kipnis hit 11 homers to go along with 20 steals against just one caught stealing and a line of .277/.345/.419.  After teasing owners with a potential 20/40 season Kipnis proceeded to tank it in the second half of the season, hitting .233/.322/.328 with just 3 homers and a stolen base success rate of 11 for 17.

Given the drastic collapse a season ago, it’s easy to question Kipnis and his prospects for the rest of the 2013 season, but I think Jason Kipnis will prove to be trustworthy the rest of the way and could provide more value for your team than he will demand back in a trade.

Jason Kipnis remains an unknown, but the similarities between his 2011 and 2013 seasons are striking.  While these are just 36 game sample sizes, both greatly contrast with the season Kipnis had in 2012, and given the similarities between 2011 and 2013, it may give us a reason to toss 2012 out the window as an outlier.  Here is how Kipnis has performed the past three seasons:

2011 7.3% 22.7% .313 .272 .333 .507 .235
2012 10% 16.2% .291 .257 .335 .379 .122
2013 9% 22.9% .295 .257 .321 .486 .230

While 2011 and 2013 are not carbon copies of each other, there are some key similarities that contrast greatly with his 2012 season.  The main differences here are in the power numbers.  Both this year and in his rookie season, Kipnis has put up a well above average .230+ ISO, compared to a below average .122 in 2012.  It looks as though Kipnis altered his approach in 2012, as he was striking out less and walking more than in the other two seasons. This would normally be a good sign, but the proof is in the results as Kipnis has been more productive with a more aggressive approach.  For a power hitter, a 23% strikeout rate is no big deal. The nice thing about these numbers is that Kipnis has improved on his walk percentage by nearly two points over his rookie campaign, so while he hasn’t quite matched the 10% rate from last season, he is still above average at 9%.  As far as batting average and on base percentage go, there is no real fluctuation between seasons other than a natural variability on balls in play, so Kipnis looks to be comfortably in the .255-.275 range, which is perfectly acceptable for a player with his power/speed combination.

To focus solely on the power numbers, let’s take a look at his ISO by year in the minor leagues:

Year Level PA ISO
2009 A- 129 .153
2010 A+ 237 .177
2010 AA 355 .190
2011 AAA 400 .204

This is exactly the kind of progression you want to see in a hitter.  Every year they bumped him up a level (two levels in 2010) and with increased plate appearances each year.  With every stop in the minor leagues Kipnis improved his ISO, from a league average .153 in his first professional season, to near elite levels at .204 in his first taste of Triple A.  What I’m getting at here is that last season’s .379 slugging percentage and .122 ISO look to be severe outliers.

So what are we left with?  A power hitting second baseman who keeps his strikeouts in check, walks at an above average rate, and is an efficient base stealer with 30+ SB upside.  Yes, he is still a relative unknown as he has not yet put together a full MLB season that cements him as a top option at the keystone.  But I’m willing to bet this will be the last season anyone can say that about Jason Kipnis.

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One Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    As an indians fan, this guy is as intriguing of a player as any in MLB from my perspective. The guy is really growing in me and I think he’ll be a nice contributor at the 2B position for the tribe for the long time. I have to take issue with some of the things you said, though (after all this article is clearly you planting seeds to try to trade him to me in fantasy). For example, “but the proof is in the results as Kipnis has been more productive with a more aggressive approach.” Kipnis is at his best when he’s taking walks and seeing more pitches. He seems to waver on his approach relative to the current situation of the game more than the average player would. I’d much rather see a consistent, patient approach (like he had today with a single, 2 walks, a SB, a sac fly, and a run scored in a 2-0 victory). It just seems like he’s up there swatting flies when it’s not a close game sometimes. He also watches a lot of good pitches go by, too many of them for strike 3. I guess I’m not saying that settling in to a more aggressive approach would necessarily be a bad thing. A bit more consistency would be nice – from his pre-pitch maneurisms to the types of hacks he takes (He’s recently gotten away from his Mickey Tettleton-like horizontal holding of the bat before the pitch is delivered). He’s a young dude, and a smart one. I think he’ll figure it out. It will likely take him longer than most to settle in to the player he’ll ultimately be.
    “For a power hitter, a 23% strikeout rate is no big deal.” – He may hit for a little more power than your average 2B but I think calling him a power hitter is a stretch. Jacob’s field is averaging almost 3 HR/game this year and the ones Kipnis has hit out of there haven’t cleared the fence by much.

    Please write more articles about the tribe. I never knew much about or analyzed any of Kipnis’ minors stats. How ’bout that Cubs/Indians WS 14?

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