After a down year (down, not terrible) in 2012 and a dreadful year in 2014 coupled with All-Star appearances in 2013 and 2015, many fans were hopping on the "Jason Kipnis is only good every other year" bandwagon. 2016 proved that Kip's production isn't dictated by what year it is. Jason Kipnis proved, once again, that he is really good at baseball and has been a key contributor for the Cleveland Indians more often than not.
When the 2016 season began, Kipnis was entering the third year of his six-year/$52.5 million contract. The first year of his contract seemed like a bad investment, but Kip immediately turned things around in 2015 and turned in (arguably) his best season of his major league career. While 2016 was not as fruitful for Kip as 2015 was, he was still one of the best players for the Cleveland Indians and was instrumental in getting the team to Game 7 of the World Series.
Jason Kipnis is increasingly durable
Dating back to 2014 (the beginning of Kip's contract), Kipnis has been reliable for 550+ plate appearances every season, which has put him in the top 5 of second basemen in the American League. In 2016, Kipnis had 688 PAs, the most he's ever had in a season. Kipnis has battled some injuries, namely the oblique injury that sidelined him in 2014, but by and large, he has been on the field almost every day for the Cleveland Indians for the past three seasons. Granted, he did mess up his ankle just before the World Series began, but that didn't stop him from suiting up and taking the field. I was firmly in the camp that Kip's bad season in 2014 was directly related to his injury, and his play since then seems to validate that theory. Expect Jason to be a consistent contributor in 2017.
Kip's splits aren't as bad as you think
With a left-handed pitcher on the mound, a lot of folks groaned when Kip would step into the box, assuming that an out was all but certain. And while he was worse against LHPs in 2016, it wasn't nearly as bad as people thought. Against RHPs, Kipnis had a slash line of .272/.351/.471 in 458 PAs; against LHPs, Kip slashed .282/.326/.464 in 230 PAs. The main differences for Kipnis were that he had a higher K-rate against lefties (25.2% v. 19.2%), slightly less power (.182 v. .200 ISO), far fewer walks (6.1% v. 10.0%). However, in terms of wRC+, Kipnis is above average against lefties (109) and is great against righties (120). Kipnis is more likely to strike out against a left-handed pitcher, but he's still an above-average offense player regardless of who's pitching.
Hello, Powerful Kipnis
The last time that Kipnis put up double-digit home runs was in 2013 when he set his single-season record at 17. In 2016, Kip shattered that record by hitting 23 home runs and having his most powerful season to date. His ISO for 2016 was .193, which is 43 points higher than his career average and the highest he's had in a single season (minimum 400 PAs). He had 2 fewer doubles and 3 fewer triples than in 2015, but his high watermark in home runs helped Kipnis add some unexpected power to an already formidable lineup.
Francisco Lindor isn't the only stud on the infield
For those of you who don't know, Jason Kipnis was drafted as an outfielder. As he made his way through the minor leagues, he transitioned to second base, which eventually became his permanent defensive home. Kipnis has never really been great at second base...until 2016. Whatever Jason did between 2015 and 2016 had a huge impact on his play in the field; paired with platinum-gloved Francisco Lindor, the Cleveland Indians suddenly found that they have a solid defensive arrangement up the middle infield. To put Kip's improvement into perspective, here are his UZR/150 ratings since 2013:
- 2013: -6.3
- 2014: -9.7
- 2015: 5.8
- 2016: 6.3
The oblique injury in 2014 impacted Kip at the plate, but he was most likely also inhibited in the field as well. Now that he's fully healthy, Kipnis is making incredible plays left and right, including this gem from Game 1 of the ALCS:
Postseason oddities for Jason Kipnis
Depending on which series you focus on from the 2016 postseason, you will see a vastly different Jason Kipnis:
- ALDS: .364/.417/.636/1.053
- ALCS: .053/.100/.211/.311
- World Series: .290/.313/.581/.893
I'm not sure what Canada did to Jason Kipnis, but they should never do it again. Otherwise, Kip looked fantastic during the postseason and was critical to getting the Indians to within one win of a World Series championship. His postseason wRC+ of 93 looks bad, but that number is grounded fairly heavily by his dreadful ALCS.
What will Kipnis do in 2017?
If he stays healthy (and all indications point to he should), Kipnis will continue to be a key member of the Cleveland Indians in the upcoming season. Steamer predicts that Kip will slash .267/.342/.416, good for a wRC+ of 104. After 2015 and 2016, a wRC+ of 104 would feel like a bit of a letdown for Kipnis. The big difference between 2016 and the projections for 2017 are that the robots don't think that Kip's recent power surge is real. While the power was nice in 2016, Kipnis doesn't need to be the power source for the Indians in 2017 (thanks to Carlos Santana) to still be a key contributor in Tito's lineup.
Thank you, Jason Kipnis
When my college roommate got me back into baseball in 2012, I immediately latched onto Kipnis as my favorite player on the team. He was young, had a great attitude, was good at his job, and looked to be a part of the team for years to come. That year, my friends bought me my very first baseball jersey for my birthday, and it was Kipnis' midnight blue jersey. Since then, I've tried to learn as much as I can about the Cleveland Indians (past, present, and future), and while I've become fond of a lot of other players on the team, Kip has always remained me favorite. This image was burnt into my mind in 2013, and I haven't been able to forget it:
Thankfully, 2016 brought a much better image for me (and Tribe fans everywhere) to remember:
So thank you, Jason. Thank you for being the spark for my die-hard Indians fandom, and thank you for being the heart and soul of this team. Here's to an incredible 2017 and another memorable October postseason run.