An analytical study on Jason Kipnis’ 2018 season; where he made a positive impact and what that could mean for his 2019 season with the Cleveland Indians.
Jason Kipnis has been the target of a lot of heat during this offseason, and he’s been a target since his career took a downturn in 2017. His position has come under fire at times and many have called for the Cleveland Indians to trade him, seeing him as a liability on the field and in the lineup.
At the surface, those slings seem valid. He hit only .230 last season after hitting .232 the year before, and he managed only one hit in three postseason games during the Tribe’s embarrassing defeat in last years ALDS.
His reputation right now seems to be in the toilet, but is that ire deserved? At quick glance, Kipnis appears to be on a two year backslide that is leading to the end of his effectiveness as a Major League hitter, but if you look a little deeper, you can quickly see that is still plenty of pop left in the career of the 2x All-Star second baseman.
The first thing that jumps out about Kipnis’ 2018 season is that he hit pretty well at home. In 301 plate appearances at Progressive Field, Kipnis hit a very solid .255/.350/.483 with a .228 ISO and 118 wRC+; 13 of his 18 home runs on the year came at home and 32 of his 47 extra bases were hit in Cleveland.
If you’re unfamiliar with ISO (Isolated Power), it simply gives us a picture of a hitters power. It basically takes singles out of the equation for slugging percentage and looks at just a hitter’s extra-base hits. For some context, an ISO of .140 is roughly average, while an ISO of .200 is considered great power.
You might think that discrepancy in power is simply due to more plate appearance at home, but no, he amassed a nearly identical 300 PA on the road last year.
Those numbers are no accident, or coincidence, he actually hit the bat harder and made better contact at Progressive than he did at other ballparks.
His line drive rate at home was 24.5% as opposed to 18.9% on the road. He also made hard contact on 39.4% of his hits in Cleveland while making HC just 30.4% of the time away for Ctown.
The next thing that stands out about Kipnis’ 2018 campaign was his ability to hit in the clutch. With RISP he hit a crisp .297/.380/.550, good enough for a .391 wOBA and a 146 wRC+.
wOBA, or weighted on-base average, measures a player’s overall offensive value. It’s on the same scale as on-base average, but unlike OBA, it assigns different values to different offensive outcomes based on their impact on runs scoring. League average wOBA in 2018 was .315, only 11 hitters finished the season with a wOBA over .380.
His 18.2% HR/FB with RISP is much higher than his 6.6% with no one on base. That’s an important number since he has a 44.4% FB rate with RISP. That leads right into his home run rate with RISP. Given that data, it should be no surprise that his 18.8 HR/PA is the highest when he hits with RISP. He has just a 50.3 HR/PA with no one on base.
Finally, Kipnis had a better year overall than his traditional numbers might indicate. His power numbers rank right up there with the best second baseman in the American League.
Bad luck could have played a large role in each of his last two seasons. For his career, Kipnis holds a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) of .306. The last two season, that number fell to .257, nearly 50 points below his career average. This suggests that though he may have been making solid contact, misfortune played a part in his poor averages.
He also put up solid defensive numbers with a 5.3 Def. That ranks as the sixth best in the Majors. He isn’t thought of as a great defensive glove, and the frequent attempts to move him to center haven’t helped, but he actually rated fairly well with his glove in 2018.
Kipnis is often looked at by fans as a liability to this team but he put up a decent 2.1 fWAR season in 2018 which rated him as just about a league average starter. His 2017 season was definitely a bump in the road, but from 2015-2016 he averaged 4.6 fWAR per year.
Don’t write off Kipnis just yet. That .230 batting average from last year was terrible, but he hit the ball hard and he came through in the clutch. I think an argument could be made that Kipnis was the most clutch second baseman in 2018. He did his job when the Indians were home and he is still a key part of this club. A solid season from Kipnis can go a long way to helping this team push their way back to the top.