Cleveland Indians: More proof that Kipnis should be an outfielder?


Should the Cleveland Indians consider making Jason Kipnis an outfielder? The stats may lend themselves to the possibility.

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There was an item on today addressing the best and worst middle infielders at turning double plays.  It began with a premise that turning double plays was critical to the success of a team, then it somewhat backtracked from that premise because the increase in strikeouts in recent decades has reduced the importance of removing baserunners.  Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, the worst second baseman in the major leagues in 2015 at turning double plays was our own Jason Kipnis.  Nobody who watched a significant amount of Indians’ baseball the past few years can claim to be stunned by this news.  Even listening on the radio, the amount of “just missed” double plays has lately seemed to be exponentially greater for the Indians than the opposition.  Some of that is Hammy homerism, no doubt, but there is also no doubt that the Indians have giving the opposition a few extra outs because of this.

Here’s the reality:  Kipnis will be 29 early next season.  Plenty of guys have played second base well into their thirties, but the number who have gotten better at it at that stage of their careers can probably be counted on one hand, without using the thumb or the pinkie.  Even if you want to make the argument that Kipnis is an adequate second baseman right now (an argument that advanced statistics and the eye test would not support), the odds of him being adequate in, say, two years, are not good at all.  His body type does not profile for a middle infielder, and it would not take much weight gain or age-related loss of lateral movement for him to be a serious detriment at second base.

Now, if you are the Indians you can wait until this actually happens to worry about it.  After all, in 2018 he is due to be paid 13.7 million dollars, so unless he is playing at an All Star level the Indians will probably want to trade him anyway.  So they could muddle through for two years and hope his offense continues at an elite level so overall his value remains high.

Or they could make him an outfielder.  It is true that he will probably be even worse as an outfielder, at least at the beginning, even if he did play center field at Arizona State.  It is also true that the Indians have a very good left fielder in Michael Brantley and that Kipnis probably doesn’t have enough of an arm to play center or right.  It is also true, however, that Kipnis is a better offensive player than any outfielder currently on the roster except for Brantley.

It is also true that Jose Ramirez would be a dramatic upgrade at second base defensively, and has shown enough offensively at times that a lineup with Ramirez at second on Kipnis in right might be as strong as one with Kipnis at second and Lonnie Chisenhall in right, depending on which version of Chisenhall shows up.

Here’s one more fact to ponder:  last year Indians’ second basemen had 707 fielding chances.  Indians’ center fielders had 371.  Corner outfielders had even fewer.  That means, in essence, that Kipnis would touch the ball two fewer times per game as an outfielder than he is as a second baseman.  Now an argument can be made that a mistake made in the outfield is more costly than one made in the infield, but the difference is probably not enough to counter the fact that an infielder handles the ball twice as often.  And, let’s face it, Kipnis isn’t going to be replacing Willie Mays in the outfield.  In fact, Ramirez is probably better defensively at second base than anyone on the roster is in the outfield.  So Kipnis would have to be downright awful in the outfield for this to not be a net positive for the overall defense.

There’s a lot of holes in this argument, the biggest being that they should have thought about it two months ago for it to have a decent shot of working.  And every lineup that includes Kipnis in the outfield has to have someone in centerfield who probably shouldn’t be there.  But only one outfielder currently on this roster got four hundred at bats last year and he’s hurt right now.

Next: Which available third baseman is a fit for the Tribe?

Rajai Davis and Chisenhall would be a great platoon; if both of them are full-time they are going to have a lot of unpleasant at-bats.  If you figure there are about two thousand plate appearances in a season for the three outfield spots, the Indians are either going to have a lot of guys playing more than they ever have, or they’re going to have a lot of guys playing, period.  Handing Kipnis five hundred at bats in the outfield would mean fewer at-bats for guys who are likely to get exposed if they get too many at bats.  That would be a good thing.