Selling Jason Kipnis
I’ll start by naming all the second basemen more valuable than Jason Kipnis in 2013:
Cheesy way to start a blog post aside, many doubted the second baseman’s 2012 campaign after he completely fell apart post All-Star break. I wasn’t one of the doubters, but I understood the sentiment. TDG’s chieftain, Bret Sayre, opined about the 26-year-old in The Top 50 Dynasty League Second Basemen:
“I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Kipnis, but I really don’t have much of a choice other than to rank him in the #4 (second base) spot. I think we saw pretty close to his peak in 2012, and I expect him to be around a .270 average with 12-15 HR and 18-22 SB going forward. But at 25 years old (he’ll be 26 right around Opening Day), he’s one of the few major league players on this list approaching their prime. In a better landscape, he’d be in the back-end of the top-10, but this is the landscape we’re stuck with.”
Given the state of second base, placing Kipnis outside the top five would have been a mistake, and Bret ranked him accordingly, even if he didn’t like him all that much. But after a slow start, Kipnis quickly erased memories of his second-half swoon in 2012, hitting .284/.366/.452, including a .301 BA in the first half, with 17 home runs, 86 runs, 84 RBIs and 30 steals.
Amongst his second base brethren, only Jose Altuve swiped 30 bags in 2013, and, since 2012, only Altuve has more steals than Kipnis at the position (68 to 61). Furthermore, only Cano (387), Brandon Phillips (346) and Ian Kinsler (334) have more combined runs and RBI than Kipnis (332) over the past two seasons.
So now that I’ve re-solidified Kipnis’ elite status at second base, it’s only natural I tell you to sell, sell, sell at his potential peak. But I’m not going to do that. I’ve seen plenty of offseason articles that suggest ridding yourself of the second baseman, but I can’t do the same. And it all comes back to the shaky second base landscape that Bret laid out for you in the preseason.
After Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Kipnis (I think that’s how most will rank the top three for 2014), I can’t make a strong case for the No. 4 guy. Do you buy into Daniel Murphy’s breakout? Do you count on Brandon Phillips and Ben Zobrist bouncing back on the wrong side of 30? Do you sacrifice runs and RBI for another (hopefully) 30 steals from Altuve? Do you really think Matt Carpenter is this good? Seriously. Do you? Really?
Here’s a list of 15-home run/30-steal second basemen since 2000:
2013: Jason Kipnis (17/30)
2011: Ian Kinsler (32/30)
2009: Ian Kinsler (31/31); Brian Roberts (16/30)
2007: Brandon Phillips (30/32)
2005: Alfonso Soriano (36/30)
2003: Alfonso Soriano (38/35)
2002: Alfonso Soriano (39/41)
2001: Roberto Alomar (20/30)
Besides showing you how awesome Alfonso Soriano once was, you can easily see how rare it is to own a second baseman of the 15/30 variety. Since 2000, only six two-baggers have accomplished the feat, and Kipnis nearly pulled it off in back-to-back seasons, which has been done exactly once before (again, since 2000). In 2013, only four players, including Mike Trout, Alex Rios and Carlos Gomez – all outfielders – joined Kipnis in the 15/30 club. And other than Andrew McCutchen, who went 21/27, I can’t find another player that came close to accomplishing the feat.
Of course this means Kipnis must maintain a 15/30 profile if he’s going to be as valuable as I’m professing, and the good news is he most certainly can provide 15 home runs and 30 steals again.
Cleveland’s No. 2 hitter improved across all five standard roto categories in 2013 (minus one steal), showing more power and a better approach, specifically, against southpaws:
2012 (241 PAs): .215/.298/.282; .067 ISO
2013 (223 PAs): .308/.370/.480; .172 ISO
Yes, his results were aided by a .390 BABIP against left-handers, but Kipnis teed up lefties with a 24-percent line drive rate, compared to 25.1 percent against righties, so it wasn’t just a result of some duck snorts here and there. Kipnis’ improvement against left-handers, while not entirely sustainable, should inspire enough confidence in his dynasty league owners to at least hold.
Overall, his power is on the up, from a .122 ISO in 2012 to a .168 ISO in 2013, and he showed even more power in the minors (.190 ISO in AA; .204 ISO in AAA). While I don’t think he reaches, say, 20 home runs with a 32.2-percent fly ball rate, guys have done much more with much less. And back-to-back years with 30 steals in roughly 37 attempts per season should put him squarely back in the ~30 range in 2014.
One area you should expect a regression is batting average, which was aided by a .345 BABIP. I’m not so worried about that, however, given the relatively safe floor of 80 runs and 75 RBIs. A .265-.270 BA would suffice given the entire package.
Selling Kipnis in the offseason isn’t a wise decision in dynasty formats. We are all aware of his extreme first and second half splits, so if you do plan on selling, wouldn’t it make sense to do it at the midway point of 2014? I advise holding Kipnis in all leagues, with the chance of more power developing. No one else at second compares, and it’s in your best interest to own a difference maker at as many positions as possible.