Through five full seasons as a Cleveland Indian, we’ve seen several different versions of Jason Kipnis. From pleasant surprise to power hitting middle infielder to table setter, along with the one that was sapped of power and ability and do-everythingness, we’ve gotten a new player seemingly every year.
He’s brought value in many different ways, entertained fans and aided his team with a myriad of tools. As we wonder what 2017 will bring for the Tribe, here’s a non-definitive ranking of those Jason Kipnises.
1. 2013 Jason Kipnis
A true breakout season, Second Full Season Kipnis had a career high 130 OPS+ and 76 walks, hitting 17 homers and earning 5.7 WAR. He even got MVP votes, and helped boost the Indians to their first playoff appearance since 2007.
It was just the Wild Card game, but it still counts officially. Besides being his best offensive season in WAR and OPS+, it was also his “on notice” season, letting the rest of the league know the Indians had one of the best second basemen in the game. That statement kind of fell by the wayside over the next two years, but it was a fun few months all the same.
2. 2015 Jason Kipnis
This is my favorite version of Kipnis. He sprayed the ball all over the field, moving to the leadoff spot and doing a good job of getting on base with a .372 OBP and keeping teams honest with his spraying attack.
He also hit .429/.511/.706 in May and .358/.441/.484 in June, just obliterating opposing pitchers and giving the team a boost in the standings. He hit the ball to the opposite field 28% of the time that year, a career high. That likely had something to do with the .356 BABIP. The season ended after 162 games, but not for lack of trying from Kipnis. This was fun because he just became a hitter in the Tony Gwynn way of doing it, tapping it opposite field time and again and frustrating opponents.
He also hit 43 doubles and seven triples, which are just more fun than home runs from an entertainment point of view.
3. 2012 Jason Kipnis
It’s hard to knock a young player’s career-establishing season, but he just wasn’t as good as he was later. But he did make us excited, hence his place in the top three of selfs.
After years of suffering through Jason Donald, Josh Barfield and the bad Luis Valbuena, this was the first hint that things were starting to turn for the Tribe. He proved to be above average offensively with his 102 OPS+ and getting 14 dingers, but was awkward and ham-handed at times on defense. He did punch his hometown in the face with that 1.365 OPS in US Cellular Field, too.
His White Sox murder is probably my favorite part about him. It was quite pleasing he started early.
4. 2016 Jason Kipnis
The slugger showed up. Sure, everyone in baseball hit home runs in 2016, but I’m not going to sit here and take anything away from the 23 Kip hit. He was excellent all year, and also happened to show up as a very solid defender. It was his best year as a defender according to rWAR, worth 0.9 defensive wins over the year.
Whether because of maturity and knowing the game, sudden leap in defensive aptitude or just good luck, it aided his third highest season WAR output. The real knock was, despite all the home runs he only logged a 107 OPS+ and struck out more than he ever has, 146 times. Part of the home run peak likely came from his pulling the ball a career high 40 percent of the time, and you have to wonder if that is going to get too intoxicating for the guy.
Dingers are so satisfying, after all. But it could draw him away from what makes him most good. Remember all those opposite field homers in 2014? Those are always amazing. I'd be okay with his sacrificing a couple of those for more oppo boppo. Which should be said more, by the way.
5. 2014 Jason Kipnis
He was just so super bad that year. He slashed .240/.310/.330, looked slow on defense and was generally terrible. He was working with an oblique strain all year, and it made him bad at all the things that usually make him good.
Like with much of 2014, from Justin Masterson being bad to Nick Swisher melting to the beginning of Yan Gomes' inability to walk at all, it was just a frustrating, bad year. It’s too bad for Kip it happened, because that season has infected his projections for the last few years and his perception among the casual fan. But excuses or no, it was a terrible, dumb season that nobody wants to see ever again. Especially him.
What does the future hold?
We’ve gotten a different look of a player each year, and one has to wonder what Kipnis will look like in 2017. Will he continue to swing for the fences and pull the ball, or will he go back to hitting to the opposite field and spray the ball around the park? He seems to follow powerful seasons with contact hitter type seasons (well, technically injury-plagued comes first) so perhaps that will come along. Or he’ll just be a total team player and fulfill whatever the Indians can’t pick up in free agency.
The magic of Kipnis apparently knows no bounds. Most likely, he'll slash about .275/.350/.450 with 25 home runs, and continue to be a little bit of everything at second base. That's where he brings the most value. As long as the glove holds up of course.