JK Construction Busy as Jason Kipnis Flounders


Kipnis Struggles, JK Construction Flourishes

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After inking

Jason Kipnis

to a six-year, $52.5 million contract extension at the start of the 2014 season, Cleveland Indians GM Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro were all smiles. The young second baseman was coming off of a brilliant 2013 season, featuring an All-Star game appearance and 4.4 WAR. Kipnis had become a fan favorite, the presumable face of the franchise for the indefinite future.

The last thing Antonetti or Shapiro expected was regression from Kipnis in 2014. Kipnis had improved every year since making his Major League debut in 2011, and the front office was banking on continued improvement from their star-in-the-making. However, while the newly-extended Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes rewarded Shapiro and Antonetti with huge 2014 campaigns, Kipnis largely disappointed.

Kipnis strained his oblique just a few weeks after the ink dried on his new contract, and he never really recovered. He rejoined the Tribe the day after Memorial Day, remarkably soon for a player recovering from an oblique injury, and in hindsight it may have been too soon.

Kipnis struggled to get on base, managing just a .240/.310/.330 slash line over 129 games. He hit just six homers in 2014, one less than Zach Walters contributed in roughly a quarter of the games. Kip drove in just 41 runs, and his ISO was a dismal .090, a huge drop off from his .168 mark from 2013. His WAR was only 0.9.

The only real positive for the JK Kid was his ability to be a threat on the base paths; he stole 22 bases in 25 attempts. Not bad for a guy with a bum oblique.

“He’s a big part of our team and organization. We expect him to be a cornerstone guy for us next year.”

The most noteworthy moment of Kipnis’ season came the evening Corey Kluber equipped his Indians’ teammates with bright orange shirts to wear during warm-ups. The shirts read “JK Construction” on the front with the slogan “I Break it. You Fix it.” on the back. Kipnis is notorious for breaking anything in his path when in a slump, and given his performance at the plate this season, it is likely he kept JK Construction pretty busy.

Kipnis refused to speak with the media both before and after the season finale, clearly disgruntled with his performance and eager to put 2014 in the rear-view mirror. Kip is harder on himself than anyone, and the Indians are banking on him turning frustration into motivation to improve heading into 2015.

“Our focus is, how do we help him be in a better spot coming into next year?” Antonetti said. “He’s a big part of our team and organization. We expect him to be a cornerstone guy for us next year, so rather than spending a lot of time dissecting what happened, our focus is: How do we help him take advantage of the off-season, come into spring training ready to go and look at 2015 rather than dwell on ’14?”

Aug 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman

Jason Kipnis

(22) makes a leaping catch in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason will be a critical one for both Kipnis and the Indians. The Tribe needs Kipnis to play at a high level to compete for a division crown in 2015. They need him to show the opposite field power that sent balls ricocheting off the left field wall nightly in 2013. They need him to be clutch; he slashed just .181/.281/.302 with RISP in 2014. They need his defense to improve; Kip’s – 8.0 UZR ranked 18th in baseball among qualified second baseman, his range likely limited by his oblique.

Perhaps a change of scenery could benefit Kipnis given his poor defensive play, at least part-time. He was drafted as an outfielder before making the switch to second base in the minors, and freeing up second would allow the Indians to start both Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez in 2015. The duo could be the most dynamic middle infield combination Cleveland has seen since Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel dazzled on double play balls in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Ramirez performed admirably filling in at short after Asdrubal Cabrera was sent to Washington, and Lindor is already tearing it up in winter ball.

Regardless of where Kipnis plays next season, he will need to prove 2014 was an aberration, or the Indians will likely be watching from home again next October.

Statistics via Fangraphs