The IBI Preview Capsules are back for 2017 as Jake Dungan takes an in-depth look at all the players who could impact the Tribe in the upcoming season from the established stars to the prospects on the verge of being called up to the majors to the non-roster invites to spring training.
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Throws: Right -- Bats: Left -- Entering his age-30 season -- Contract: Fourth year of 6-year, $52.5 million deal (Free agent in 2020)
2016 In Review: Despite not earning an All-Star bid, Jason Kipnis put together one of the better seasons of his career, particularly from a power standpoint slugging a career high 23 home runs to the tune of a .469 slugging percentage and .193 ISO. While he did sacrifice some batting average points and struck out a bit more with his newfound aggressive approach, his value was not drastically affected as he posted a 4.8 WAR, down only from 5.0 in 2015. Probably the most encouraging part of the Tribe second baseman's 2016 performance was that his first and second half splits were more balanced as he batted .276 with an .810 OPS before the All-Star break and .275 with an .813 OPS after the Midsummer Classic. In prior seasons, the Illinois native has been notoriously a first half player, typically with one blazing hot month, before tailing off in the second half.
Versus Right-handers: Kipnis has always hit well against right-handed pitching batting .282 with an .811 OPS for his career. Last season was no different as he batted .272 with an .822 OPS, although most of his 148 strikeouts came against right-handers at 88. As a left-handed hitter, that's nothing out of the ordinary, but his splits between right and left-handers heading into 2016 were more imbalanced. However, like just about everything else with his game last season, those splits were more evened out.
Versus Left-handers: While the Tribe second baseman has thrived against right-handed pitching in his career, the flipside has him struggling against lefties batting just .254 with a .688 OPS. Not terrible, but for an Indians team that at one time was heavy with left-handed hitters and had issues against southpaws, they needed better. In 2016, however, Kipnis actually was better in some respects against left-handers batting .282 compared to a .272 mark against righties while his OPS only dropped to .790 from .822. The Indians lineup is more balanced now with a few more right-handed and switch hitters, but if Kipnis can keep up this kind of consistency, it certainly couldn't hurt.
Defense: 2016 was quite easily the best defensive season of Kipnis's career at second base as he posted new high water marks in DRS (4), UZR (7.3) and UZR/150 (6.3). This could possibly be attributed to the overall upgraded defense around the horn of the Tribe infield, particularly with fielding savant Francisco Lindor assuming starting duties at shortstop in 2015. Kipnis went from a career worst defensive season at -11 DRS and -8.0 UZR in 2014 to positive stats in both categories the next season. On the other hand, the 29-year-old has improved on a personal level defensively as well, particularly with his range, which according to range runs above average, has seen an increase from -8.5 in 2014 to 7.5 last season, a difference of 16 runs. Thanks to Kipnis's fielding improvements along with Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana, the Indians have a chance to boast one of the best defensive infields in baseball in 2017.
Fantasy Impact: If Jason Kipnis can pick up where he left off last season, he should not only earn another All-Star bid, but also continue to be the leader on and off the field. Unfortunately, Fangraphs' projections are currently not as rosy as both Depth Charts and Steamer anticipate a decline pretty much across the board. His value is projected to drop from 4.8 WAR to 2.7 or 2.8. It seems odd after back-to-back years of high productivity as a hitter, but perhaps it has something to do with his turning 30 at the start of the season or maybe they believe his spike in power in 2016 was a fluke. Hopefully the reverse is true and his run production and defense continues to trend upward.
Summary: Kipnis is without a doubt one of the cornerstones of this Indians team. Where he fits into this new look Tribe batting order with the addition of Edwin Encarnacion and potentially a healthy Michael Brantley will be an interesting development once the season gets going. Most likely he'll remain at the top with Francisco Lindor and possibly Carlos Santana, depending on where Terry Francona slots in Brantley, but will he continue to bat second or even leadoff, where he's flourished in the past? Either way, he'll be a key part of the lineup as well as the defense, which could be among the top run prevention units in the majors in 2017. If he maintains his improved range along with his aggressive, yet balanced plate approach throughout the season, there's no doubt he can remain one of the best all-around second basemen in baseball.
Check out our other 2017 Preview Capsules here:
- 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion
- LHP Andrew Miller
- RHP Corey Kluber
- 3B Jose Ramirez
- INF Erik Gonzalez
- RHP Cody Allen
- OF Abraham Almonte