I tend to wonder if Jason Kipnis believes in Karma. After starting the season batting .200/.269/286, he might have been wondering just what he did to piss off the delicate balance of the universe. Kipnis was a consensus ranked #4 second baseman back in March and by the end of April he was actually popping up on waiver wires.
Then, it seems, he got right with the world, or his chi, or whatever one might believe in. From the beginning of May to the end of June, Kipnis went all berzerker and hit .333/.421/618 with 11 home runs, 14 stolen bases, and 47 RBI in just over 200 at bats.
And then once again, his seven chakras must have been all blended together in some cosmic sludge of misery — in the second half, Kipnis has hit just .244/.319/.341 with two home runs and two stolen bases. In fact, his wOBA distribution looks like a fairly close facsimile of the grading mechanism Mr. Hutton used to assign marks in my 10th grade History class:
(That’s April to August, left to right. Don’t ask me why Excel wouldn’t cooperate this morning, but I’m simply choosing my battles here. I digress.)
So Kipnis has gone from below league average to one of the most productive hitters in the league back to below league average. So just what the heck is going on here?
The types of pitches Kipnis has been seeing really hasn’t changed much from the first half to the second half. He’s seeing roughly 35% fastballs, 20% two seamers (or sinkers, according to Brooks), and about 12% sliders, 12% curve balls. There’s very little variation. His batting average in the first half on most of these offerings is down a bit, but not so significantly that you’d expect this kind of decline. But what does jump out is his slugging percentage on the most common pitches he sees:
Between the sinker (two seamer) and slider, that’s about 35% of the total pitches he sees and his slugging percentage has been more than cut in half. Across the board, his SLG% is down of course — and it might not have been sustainable to maintain that ridiculous pace, but his slugging percentage on sinkers is now just a hair above .300 and on sliders it has gone from .613 to .250.
The beautiful charts available over at Brooks Baseball help illustrate his recent struggles. Here’s a before and after swing chart on Kipnis’ zone:
He’s offering at a lot more pitches away, inside, and low. If you’re in a hurry and you don’t want to look at the individual percentages for the next five minutes — in general the “before” just has a nicer red in the zone and then there’s more purple out of the zone on the “after”. The result has seen his spray chart look like this:
In general, his pull tendencies (with the exception of the second base rollover) seem to have disappeared. Not that having pull tendencies is necessarily a bad thing — but you can see right away that he’s not hitting many balls nearly as deep as he was in the first half of the season, which kind of corroborates this whole slugging percentage thing.
I’m not exactly sure what to make of all of this. The sample is surely too small to have any kind of a smoking gun, but if you were wondering what in the heck happened to his production, well, here you go. This isn’t to say he’s not primed for some kind of breakout, but if you should start to hear about some kind of nagging shoulder or wrist injury in the off season, don’t be surprised. If you own Kipnis, maybe see if you can find a suitable short-term replacement until there’s evidence that his head is screwed on properly.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.