During the first month of this season, Jason Kipnis hit just .234/.354/.394. He started last season even worse, before turning things on in the middle of May, and then putting up one of the best months in franchise history during June. Given his 2013, I wasn't worried about him during April. At the end of the month, Kipnis suffered a strained oblique, which caused him to miss four weeks. Since his return though, instead of getting things going, he's done even worse.
During the month and a half since he returned, Kipnis is batting .266/.319/.325 in 182 plate appearances. He's struck out three times as often as he's walked during that span, and he hasn't hit a single home run.
Kipnis' .345 BABIP last season was probably unsustainable, so some downwards regression was to be expected, but that doesn't explain the substantial drop in his power numbers. His line-drive rate is down, as is his fly-ball rate, and the fly balls he is hitting aren't going as far this year. After he bumped his home run total from 14 to 17 last year, I expected another bump in his third full season, one that would have given him 20+ home runs. Instead he's on pace for just 6 of them. He's on pace to hit fewer doubles and fewer triples than he did a year ago too.
What looked like a slow start now seems like a down season. Sure, there's time for fim to turn things around, but there's no chance he's going to match his 2013 numbers, or find himself mentioned on anyone MVP ballot this time around.
The more frightening question: Is what we're seeing a fluke, or was last year the outlier? And really, it's not even last year we're talking about, when we talking about him being a great hitter, it's a two month stretch of last year. As I already said, he had an awful beginning of the year, which didn't get turned around til mid May. Then he was tremendous for a good stretch, but after the All-Star break in 2013 he hit .261/.343/.371, only a bit better than his numbers are this year.
Add his second half from last year with his first half from this season, and his line is .265/.344/.368, which is just a hair better than league average at the plate (a wRC+ of 103). Throw out that fantastic two-month stretch, and "just a hair better than league average at the plate" is who Kipnis has been during his career; he'd have a line of .256/.331/.389.
Those two months happened, and they're a valid reason to think Kipnis is going to get things going in the second half, and get back to being a good hitter, but I also think we should consider the possibility that he isn't really that guy.
Kipnis might just be an average hitter; one who runs the bases very well (he's stolen 9 bases since returning from the injury, and might become the first Indian to steal 30+ bases three years in a row since Roberto Alomar did it from 1999 to 2001), sure, but also one who's defense at second base seems to have plateaued as below average. All that put together makes him roughly an average player, worth having as the team's second baseman, but not anyone to write home about.
When he signed a 6-year, $50 million extension this spring (with a $16.5 million team option for 2020), it seemed to me like a good gamble for the Tribe to make. Right now though, some of the shine has come off that deal, which no longer looks like a big bargain over what the team would have gotten by going year to year.
I spilled a lot of digital ink praising Kipnis over the last couple years, and I still expect him to heat up in the second half and make us happy. Looking closer at his production has tempered my optimism a bit though.