2014 has been a lousy year for Jason Kipnis and his fantasy owners. After back-to-back campaigns as a top-five fantasy second baseman — No. 5 in 2012, No. 3 in 2013 — he is the No. 21 second baseman in standard formats this year. He has provided less fantasy production than Brock Holt.
On Wednesday, Kipnis attempted to explain his disappointing season in a rather bizarre interview with MLB.com. He mostly pointed to his new contract as an excuse, saying that it forced him to try to do too much early in the season. The problem with this explanation is that April was easily his best month of the season, as his .766 on-base plus slugging was a full 100 points higher than in his best month since. It’s now mid-September and Kipnis still hasn’t broken out of his season-long slump.
Kipnis’ last homer came on July 31. Since then, he’s hit .255/.308/.309 in 162 plate appearances. Over that span, he’s averaging less than one RBI per week. The only value he’s been able to provide has been on the basepaths, where he has seven steals since the calendar turned over to August, and 22 on the year.
The 27-year-old missed most of May with an oblique injury, but Kipnis wants you to know it hasn’t been a factor: “The oblique’s not an excuse. There’s good days and bad days with it…At times, it was weak. It wasn’t re-strengthened yet.” In other words, the injury is not an excuse, but if it was, here’s a bunch of reasons why it would be a pretty good excuse.
Regardless of the reason, Kipnis has been bad in 2014. What I want to do is figure out exactly how he’s been bad, and whether there should be cause for significant long-term concern. The thing that jumps off the page is the fact that he has completely lost his ability to hit southpaws. Last year, he was even better against same-handed pitching than he was against righties, but that has been far from the case in 2014:
- 2013 vs L (223 PA) – .308/.370/.480, .850 OPS
- 2013 vs R (435 PA) – .270/.364/.437, .801 OPS
- 2014 vs L (171 PA) – .215/.265/.253, .518 OPS
- 2014 vs R (340 PA) – .266/.347/.392, .739 OPS
While Kipnis hasn’t quite been the same hitter he was last year against right-handers either, his production against southpaws has been laughable, so let’s focus on that. Just check out the stark difference in his heat maps against lefties between 2013 and 2014:
Last year, he was able to rack up the hits no matter where lefties threw it; inside, outside, high, low, it really didn’t matter. This year, he’s got a chance if it’s middle-in, but other than that, it’s a pretty hopeless enterprise. There’s a major discrepancy in his results by pitch type against southpaws as well:
Last season, Kipnis was absolutely punishing lefty fastballs, while doing some damage against breaking balls as well. This year, he’s not hitting anything lefties throw him, to the point where he has just four extra-base hits against them.
The overarching problem here is the very real possibility that 2013, not 2014, will end up being the outlier in his career data set. After all, back in 2012…
- vs L (241 PA) – .215/.298/.282, .581 OPS
- vs R (431 PA) – .280/.355/.432, .787 OPS
The feeling was that Kipnis figured out how to hit lefties last year. But what if it turns out to be just a full-season mirage? Even as a year-long sample, it was still only 223 plate appearances. That’s not really a small sample, but it’s within reason that a guy could ride a hot streak that long. I still think that Kipnis’ true talent probably lies somewhere in between, but there’s certainly a non-zero chance this becomes a big enough issue to force him into a platoon long-term.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.