After his first season-plus in the big leagues the list of similarity scores for Jason Kipnis reads like a who’s who of mostly forgettable players: former Tribe utility player Mike de la Hoz, Billy Grabarkewitz, Tim Teufel, Orlando Hudson, and Carlos Garcia. There are two interesting names sprinkled in — Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young — but by and large it’s not a great list of comps.
And, admittedly, I wasn’t quite ready to jump on the Kipnis-bandwagon at the start of the season either. In response to the question of who will be the biggest disappointment for the Tribe this season I wrote, “Jason Kipnis. I’m just not sold on the bat yet.”
After watching Kipnis post some promising minor league numbers during his tenure (.297/.378/.486) and a strong, albeit very brief, 150-plate appearance stint with the big league club in 2011 (.272/.333/.507), the Tribe’s keystone was rather average with the bat last season, posting a .257/.335/.379 line and a 102 OPS+.
Sure, he added value with his legs — he swiped 31 bags in 38 tries — but 25-year-old middle infielders with OPSs barely over .700 tend to go either way.
And Kipnis has gone one way — just not the way I thought.
Seventy-one games into 2013, Jason Kipnis has been the team’s best player, totaling 2.2 wins above replacement (FanGraphs), tied for the fourth best mark at the position in all of baseball. He’s walking at an above-average rate (10.6%), stealing bases at a reasonable clip (76%) and playing league-average defense.
The biggest step forward, however, has been Kipnis’ power — or the return of it.
After posting a .198 Isolated Power in his minor league career, that number fell all the way down to .122 in 2012. Again, a serviceable number, but something that likely won’t overcome the vagaries of low BABIPs players tend to succumb to.
Now, though, it’s right back to an above-average skill: .192 ISO. And in doing so, his overall offensive production has been 23% better than the league average, the seventh best mark at the position – just one percentage point behind Dustin Pedroia and four points below Robinson Cano’s.
And while I’m not completely sold yet — Kipnis’ numbers against LHs in a small sample size are better than RHs this season — I have become a believer. Dare I say it? Are we are all Kipnises?