Throughout spring training I’ll be highlighting “things to work on” for certain key players this year.
Kipnis’ top priority this year is to improve his performance against lefties. His .298 OBP and .282 slugging percentage (yes, his slugging was actually lower than his OBP), just isn’t going to cut it.
But to highlight Kipnis’ struggles against lefties would be taking the easy way out with this piece, so I dug a little deeper into his stats.
Another area in which Kipnis needs to improve is his ability to work with what’s given to him.
More specifically, he needs to improve his consistency going to the opposite field with outside pitches.
In 2012, Kipnis had a .301 batting average on balls in play (excluding bunts) on outside pitches. While that number looks nice, it’s actually 16 points below the league average for left-handed batters and ranked 44th out of 69 qualifying players.
The spary chart on the right shows all of Kipnis’ balls in play against outside pitches in 2012.
As you can see, there’s a significant cluster of ground-ball outs on right side of the infield.
In total, Kipnis pulled 81 of the 231 outside pitches which he put in play (33.8 percent) and posted a .148 average in these at-bats.
It’s worth noting that pulling outside pitches isn’t always the wrong approach and certain hitters make it work well for them. Asdrubal Cabrera, for example, led all lefties with a pull percentage of 53.3 in 2012, and still hit .352 in those at-bats.
But the approach clearly doesn’t work for Kipnis.
Additionally, the stats seem to indicate that when Kipnis pulled outside pitches, it was due to the fact that he was fooled by the pitch.
31 of the 81 outside pitches Kipnis pulled (38 percent) were on change-ups, and 80.2 percent were off-speed pitches.
Compare those numbers to Cabrera, who connected on a fastball on 46.5 percent of his pulled outside pitches.
Further supporting this theory is the fact that 60 of Kipnis’s pulled outside pitches were ground balls (74 percent), and only two resulted in hits, producing an unfathomable .033 BA.
Cabrera, on the other hand, only produced 46 percent groundballs and hit .154 in those at-bats, above the league average of .122.
The good news is that when Kipnis did go to the opposite field, he hit .368, well above the league average for lefties of .317. So there is reason to believe he can dramatically improve in this area.
Kipnis simply needs to improve his recognition skills at the plate. If he can hold back on those off-speed pitches on the outside corner, he’ll be able to serve a higher percentage into left field.