Trend Spotting: On the star that is Jason Kipnis
Starting the second game of the Indians twin bill against the White Sox, splitting time between Seinfield and the torturously slow Jose Quintana, I began to pour over the absurdity of production that is Jason Kipnis.
Perhaps it is “trendy” to discuss Jason’s torrid rate but for intents and purposes it is an unavoidable discourse that ends in me drooling over his fangraphs profile. However, as is often the case a database or any collections of statistics don’t perfectly reflect his value. Even in his early March slump Kipnis was a grinder and as the team began to get hot and he continued to produce at a mediocre level he continued to be the incredible, level headed teammate that he is.
Kipnis is as close to the definition of blue collar as one can get, an intense Chicago kid who plays as a hybrid between a linebacker, a defenseman and a 2nd baseman. I usually abhor those who throw labels on players like “he plays the game the right way” or “he is a competitor”.
First off, if you are paid at the highest level one would hope that you are a “competitor”, a somewhat humorous notion. Digressing, if I know what “playing the right way” looks like; Jason Kipnis has to be the player most apt for that description.
Moving on to the data itself I think the first interesting consideration with Kipnis is comparing him to his contemporaries.
|Player (Ranked in order of A.L. All Star voting)||WAR||wRC+||wOBA|
(wRC+ - Runs per PA scaled where 100 is average; both league and park adjusted; based on wOBA)
(wOBA - Weighted On Base Average)
Using almost any measurable it is clear that Kipnis and Pedroia are easily the two best 2nd baseman in the American League. The statistic that is particularly impressive in terms of Kipnis is his wRC+. Kipnis with park adjustment becomes the best 2nd baseman in the American League, with only Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals being better in the National League.
The real edge Kipnis has in park adjusted production has to do with the large disadvantage he has compared to Pedroia and Cano’s home ballparks. Both play in postage stamp parks tailored to their power alleys.
If one simply uses WAR to measure Kipnis against the rest of American League position players you find that he has been the ninth most valuable, ahead of guys like Jose Bautista, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre.
Of course WAR has its imperfections, and it is easy to overvalue production at different early checkpoints during the season but his production as well as pedigree screams that he is here to stay as an elite 2nd baseman.
While it appears for this season, that Kipnis will come up short of the national commendation that he deserves, barring injury it is inevitable that he will be a multiple time all-star.
One thing that is often forgotten about Jason’s career is how quickly he reached the big club after he was drafted. Kipnis rocketed through the system, playing only one full season in the minor leagues before arriving for a long stint in the second half of 2011.
Although Kipnis was perhaps as close to a finished product as it gets in terms of drafting a college position player, this sort of expedited rise is does not preclude a player from continued development.
Many expect prospects who reach the Tribe to be prepared and perfect commodities but that is simply not the case.
What is wonderful about Kipnis is that he has taken tangible steps forward from season to season in three very important categories.
The first is O-Swing %, Kipnis has improved his pitch recognition in each season, not only outside but also inside the zone. Kipnis has trimmed the amount pitches he looks for inside the zone and has made better contact because of it.
O-Swing % is important because of the effect it has on walk rate and strikeout rate. Really it is an outstanding trail marker in terms of plate discipline an area in which Kipnis has improved drastically.
I believe that two things have caused this shift, the first is obviously continued development to his approach from season to season. The second, is the surrounding cast, while the protection effect is a very robust debate in baseball today I am more referencing the talent this offense has in general.
Last year, Kipnis in basically his rookie season was thrust into a role of major responsibility far too early because there just was not enough offensive talent. Kipnis has acknowledged how tough it was last season, after the all-star break as he pressed and attempted to do too much. These sorts of issues can have legitimate impact on plate discipline.
Never the less, Jason’s plate discipline has improved both years as well as his walk rate, an absolute necessity for a middle of the order hitter.
Lastly, we have Jason’s LD% and BABIP; two statistics that have some relation, although perhaps not as linear as we think. Perhaps because of plate discipline or mechanical adjustments, Kipnis’ LD% has increased both seasons, in each one rather sizably. While his 2012 LD% increase did not directly elevate his BABIP, usually the better the LD% the better the BABIP.
In terms of the eye test, it seems that Jason’s .291 BABIP from 2012 will probably be an outlier from his career for a few different reasons. First, Jason has above average speed which effects groundball BABIP. Second, Kipnis LD% is above average which should inflate BABIP. Lastly, Kipnis batted ball placement while not neutral does show a hitter who uses the whole field which does not allow for the type of defensive alignments that seriously deflate BABIP.
Carlos Santana is a really good example of a BABIP being deflated because of his tendency to pull the ball. Which when addressed by shifts has made him a less successful hitter than his contact quality might suggest.
Returning to Kipnis, I must include that strikeout rate has spiked this season, as Jason has continually gotten deeper in counts, decreasing his swings inside and outside the zone which has caused the increase in K and BB rates.
However, coupling the improved discipline with continued improvement in his batted ball profile and you have a player whose production does not seem to be entirely unsustainable.
In fact, I believe that his cumulative stats to this point projected over the whole season will be a pretty fair representation of what we should expect from him over the next five seasons.
A few things that may only interest me:
- Chisenhall career BABIP .291, to date .264
- Swisher career BABIP .291, to date .277
- Scott Kazmir E.R.A. 4.83, xFIP 3.96
- Mark Reynolds career HR/FB 20.5%, to date 19.2%
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