If you had a choice between Brad Miller, Max Moroff or Eric Stamets to hold down the job at second base, who would your pick be? To be honest, with combined numbers of .094/.159/.134, three RBI and 29 strikeouts, the answer should be none. Yes, it has only been nine games with these three, but Jason Kipnis is superior to each.
The narrative over the last handful of seasons is that Kipnis is a bad player both offensively and defensively all of a sudden and that simply is not the case if you know where to look. To anti-Kipnis supporters, Kipnis hasn’t been on the same level as Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve and may not even be the best second baseman on his own team, but where does that make him a bad player?
With Kipnis’ 32nd birthday just passing, he has been bothered by the injury bug as of late, but when entering a new season healthy, he has been a productive second baseman for a team that has had a winning record for the better part of the last decade.
When Kipnis has played 140 games or more (five such seasons), he averages .270, 17 home runs and 75 RBI over a 162-game season. Meanwhile, when Kipnis has been hurt, he comes out of the gate slow due to
Due to the lack of reps in February and March, it often takes longer for a player to get back into the groove of things and it has shown in Kipnis’ WAR, OPS and is most obvious in his batting averages. Kipnis’ BABIP, plate appearances, total bases
With both Kipnis and Francisco Lindor coming off injuries before the season, it would be best to expect both to struggle coming out of the gate.
Another aspect of Kipnis’ career of late that could be lost on people is him having to adjust to playing a new position in the Major Leagues on the fly. Kipnis has not played center field since his days as an Arizona State Sun Devil, but being the team player he is, Kipnis has adjusted to being the on/off CF for the past two seasons.
It may seem elementary to blame his adjustment to struggles at the plate on his defensive assignments, but baseball is an extremely mental and routine game. Anything that isn’t “the norm” can affect a player in different ways. Kipnis has not made a single error in 170+ innings in center field, but not being healthy at the onset of the season AND having to adjust to the mental side of a new position, it’s no coincidence that Kipnis could struggle offensively. Not to mention, with his plus/minus fielding runs at -27 in CF, it’s clear Kipnis may be serviceable, but his efforts are best at second base.
So, who could replace Kipnis at second base? The answer to that is…nobody. Indians fans often gripe about Kipnis’ defense as well and voice that they would like to see Jose Ramirez take over the everyday duties at second base, but truthfully, Kipnis has better fielding numbers (.984 fielding percentage) than Ramirez (.978 fielding percentage) does at second base. In fact, Ramirez’s best numbers come in the outfield (.987 fielding percentage) but he is largely unfamiliar in that position, just like Kipnis.
With Ramirez sticking at third base, there are honestly no viable replacements for Kipnis at second base and that’s actually a good thing. The aforementioned Miller has comparable experience, but his bat is unreliable. Moroff is the better fielder, but his .187 career average proves to be too low for an everyday player. Stamets, the Dublin, Ohio native, is still adjusting to the Major League after collecting his first career hit this past weekend.
Whether fans like it or not, we are stuck with Kipnis for better AND worse. With the Dolans cutting payroll by $15 million, don’t expect a big-name signing to replace him at second base, for Kipnis is still owed almost $15 million for 2019 and has a $16.5 million team option for 2020. If it makes you happy, that means he could be gone sooner than later. The Indians highest-rated SS/2B, Tyler Freeman, is only 19 years old, so his debut is later rather than sooner.
So, you know, don’t get your hopes up too much, because this two-time All-Star is here to stay, possibly starting this week.
Oh yeah…did I mention he’s a two-time All-Star as well?