Even after losing some time to injury, Jason Kipnis has managed 200+ plate appearances this year, and his fantasy line has not matched his work in the past so far. It’s a little too far into the season to just poo-poo it away with mentions of small sample size. But, jump into the numbers, and it looks like issues of sample and perspective are hiding the fact that he’s probably still a top-half second baseman in any league.
Let’s paint the picture of a bad Kipnis first. The second baseman has shown a dramatic drop-off in power — if you paced out his homers, you might not get to double-digits. His batted ball distance on homers and flies has dropped 20 feet from last year to this year. After missing a month with an oblique injury, it’s fair to ask if he’s healthy yet. He’s not driving the ball. We can’t blame his batted ball mix, at least. He’s hitting more flies than grounders this year, relatively. The ball’s just not going as far when he hits it.
Maybe he’s swinging at bad pitches? He’s swinging more this year, and reaching more than he has since his rookie year. Take a look at his swing map — he’s definitely expanded his zone. (2013 on the left, 2014 on the right.)
So you’ve got a guy who’s swinging and missing more (swinging strike rate up to 7.6% from 6.8%), reaching more, and making less solid contact when he makes contact. Boom, roasted, right? He’s terrible.
Except that he’s not terrible. His walk (10.8%) and strikeout rates (16%) are still both above average. His swinging strike rate has gotten worse, but it’s still better than average (9.1% for non pitchers). He still reaches and swings less often than the average big leaguer (23.3% for him, 29.3% for the league). He’s even hitting an average amount of line drives (20.9%, 21% is average most years).
He’s still got excellent plate discipline with a line-drive stroke. He’s still taking off on the base-paths, too. If you pro-rated his stolen base attempts per game, you’d get 27 attempts even in a 150-game season, which is about his average. With a .278 batting average on balls in play and a .311 career number in that category, you could expect that excellent plate discipline and speed to come with a good batting average in the future, too. He’s hit one infield fly all year!
There’s still the matter of his power. Unfortunately, power takes the longest to become stable. All you have to do is look at Kipnis’ power history to know why this happens. Kipnis has seen his power come in bunches in the past. He only had one homer in April, August, and September last year. The other 14 homers came in three months. Give Kipnis a five-homer July, and all of his power numbers will look better. Look how it manifests graphically in his batted ball distance on homers and flies over the past three years (from BaseballHeatMaps):
People have pointed to those second-half fades for Kipnis in the past, but there’s no evidence that seasonal splits like that are predictive. What’s far more likely, given his past — and the fact that his plate discipline, batted ball mix, contact rates and speed are all still healthy parts of his game — is that Kipnis has a power breakout coming that will reverse the seasonal splits he’s seen so far in his career and get him back to his usual seasonal totals.
What’s wrong with Jason Kipnis? Not much.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.