Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is on the rise after a slow start. What’s behind the two-time All-Star’s turnaround?
Sunday’s big performance was just one of the many improved games for Jason Kipnis. Ever since he returned to the leadoff spot, Kipnis has shown the All-Star bat that eluded him when he was taken off the disabled list earlier in the year. We take a look at the numbers to go inside his turn around in 2017.
The slash lines themselves are startling. As a lead off man, Kipnis is hitting .351 / .393 / .684 with a 1.078 OPS. Compare that to a .143 / .143 / .214 lines in the three hole and a .184 / .196 / .204 line at the six spot. The approximately 200 point improvement at the very least points to a couple of things. First, that perhaps Kipnis wasn’t 100 percent healthy when he first came back, especially since he didn’t get much time in Goodyear to knock the rust off.
Second, there is something different about the approach of a lead off hitter. It’s to get the offense started and get on base by any means, not drive in runs, provide power, or be the star of the show. Remember a few years back when Shin-Shoo Choo batted at the top of the order? Remember how well Carlos Santana played in that role last year? Their approach changed when all they had to do was just get on base and let the rest of the team do their part. Kipnis this season is no different.
It’s also not like Kipnis has never done this. Per his career splits, his best spot in the order is at the top of it. His career .286 / .358 / .443 line and .801 OPS is arguably the best slash line of any spot he’s ever hit. While the counting stats like home runs and RBI are higher elsewhere, leading off seems to suit Kipnis’s overall approach. There’s no number to support this theory, but if you’ve watched the Tribe this season, he looks far more comfortable leading off. Kipnis just seems to swing more on balanced and isn’t chasing as much. It’s subjective, yes, but the film shows this.
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Kipnis is also feasting on pitchers when he gets into a good hitters count. By going .344 (11/32) in situations where he is ahead in the count, Kipnis has taken advantage of the opportunities given to him.
It’s a contributing factor to his uptick in “clutch” hitting.
He’s hitting .364 with two outs and runners in scoring position, .286 in tie games, and .292 when the game is within one run. Overall with runners in scoring position, he’s now hitting .429 on the year, one of the few Indians to do so successfully.
Terry Francona‘s decision to put a slumping Kipnis at the top of the order seemed crazy at the time. But the numbers indicate that he wasn’t so crazy after all.