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The inconsistent consistency of Jason Kipnis

Every time he’s healthy, Kipnis produces similarly. And yet, he doesn’t.

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It would be wrong to call Jason Kipnis a great player for the Indians over his career. He’s probably just short of that — some sort of Very Good is more fair. He’s popped off a few four and five win seasons, chased batting titles and hit home runs in the 20’s once, and even got a few MVP votes. But Kipnis has brought at least one thing to the table, when he’s healthy at least. For better or worse, Kipnis’s results have been remarkably consistent, even if the paths have been different from year to year.

What we’re really looking at is three years where Kipnis has been healthy — 2013 when he broke out, 2015 when he decided to become an opposite field, line drive hitter, and 2016 when he decided to become a power hitter as he blasted 23 home runs. He had an OPS above .800 in each of these years, which is generally good. But between 2013 and 2015 the offensive environment across baseball changed drastically:

Jason Kipnis OPS vs. League OPS Through the Years

Year League Avg OPS Kipnis OPS Kipnis OPS+
Year League Avg OPS Kipnis OPS Kipnis OPS+
2013 .711 .818 130
2015 .753 .823 120
2016 .773 .811 109

In some way, Kipnis stayed roughly the same hitter by raw output, but everyone around him started hitting way, way better. This consistency in OPS doesn’t really hold true within its constituent parts, as Kipnis’ on-base percentage has flutuated between .372 and .343 just in these years, as well as a couple in the tank when he was hurt. The slugging took up the slack for that .343 OBP in 2016, getting up to .469 when he was a slugger, though the other two years it sat essentially the same, .452 and .451.

It’s strange. Usually consistent players do things consistently. Edwin Encarnacion hits huge home runs and draws walks. Joey Votto walks forever and punishes mistakes. But Kipnis has kept evolving, changing, leaving you to wonder who he might be next. Between that and his injury-plagued seasons separating these seasons he is a singularly difficult player to grasp. He’s just never let anyone know what to expect from year to year.

Will his walk rate fall for another year? That, combined with the ever rising fly ball rate (from 28.1 percent in 2015 to 44.1 this year) paints a picture of a Kipnis once again near-unrecognizable in 2018. Which means something good if his exit velocity reverts to his above average 2016, not the sub-par 86.2 in 2017. He’s had his bad year though, and if history is any judge thatmeans two seasons of very good play. That look nothing like each other if you look at all past the surface. Kipnis is a neat player. He keeps us guessing.

Variety being the spice of life that it is, I guess Kipnis is just the spiciest player on the Indians. Who would have thought?