Kipnis is Back, Alright
Laurel Wilder | On 29, May 2014
With a face that could easily fit into a boy-band group photo, it seems only fitting to welcome Jason Kipnis back to the Tribe’s roster with the words of the legendary Backstreet Boys:
“Oh my god, he’s back again.”
The return of Kipnis, almost exactly to the day he said he’d return, could not come at a better time for the Tribe. With a roster that seems to be dropping like flies, bodies are the one thing that the Indians need most. Nick Swisher was placed on the 15-day Disabled List with a knee injury, Carlos Santana is on the seven-day DL with a concussion, Nyjer Morgan is on the 60-Day DL, Zach McAllister is on the DL… Are you sensing a theme?
George Kottaras and Jesus Aguilar were brought up to fill the Indians roster on Tuesday in Chicago, and TJ House has been moved the starting rotation to replace McAllister for the time being. Thus, what could be better news for the Tribe than the addition of Kipnis to the lineup after having been on the DL since April 30 with a right oblique strain?
One thing can be better news – adding a Kipnis who can deliver, a Kipnis that is reminiscent of the All-Star Kipnis who played for the Tribe last season. The Indians could use the likes of that Kipnis on their current roster.
What can Kipnis add to the team? What do they need from him? Frankly, they could use everything. Defense, offense, maybe an extra bullpen arm? Okay, that last one might be a stretch – although, Ryan Raburn did have that one impressive inning last season, so a position player on the mound may not be that far out of the question – but let’s hope the team doesn’t have to resort to that.
But, when it comes down to it, the Indians need a boost. Prior to his being sent to the DL, Kipnis was hitting .234 in 27 games with 22 hits, six doubles, three home runs, and 12 RBI. He was triple slashing .354/.394/.748, and had four stolen bases on the season. Compare these numbers to those of players who are now on the DL – Swisher was hitting .211 with 39 hits, 11 doubles, and three home runs in 49 games, while Santana was was hitting a paltry .159 in 50 games with 28 hits, seven doubles, and six home runs. Although Santana boasts 43 walks, he has only two stolen bases, demonstrating the fact that, just because he gets on base, does not mean his presence on the bases amounts to much.
Last year, Kipnis was an American League All-Star with a final average of .284 in 149 games. He had 160 total hits, 36 doubles, four triples, and 17 home runs. He stole 30 bases and knocked in 84 runs while striking out 143 times. His bat was – and hopefully will continue to be – a necessary part of the Indians lineup.
That’s not the say that Kipnis needs to carry the team – that would be impossible. What he needs to do, however, is help ignite a hot streak that the team can ride for games to come.
The problem with the Indians (above the obvious on-the-field woes) seems to come from the residual effects that losing has on the team. If one player does bad, it seems to seep into the playing of the other players, as well. If a pitcher does poorly on the mound, at times it seems to move backwards into the infield and outfield. Conversely, if a pitcher is doing well but the guys behind him are not playing to their best abilities, it can be easy for the pitcher to get discouraged and begin perform at a lower level. It’s a symbiotic relationship, in which the woes of some get transposed to become the woes of many.
If this is the way that the Indians play when subpar playing is rampant, imagine what they could do when good playing happens. It can be seen in games such as the team’s 22-hit wonder in Toronto in mid-May – once one or two bats start heating up, the whole team feels the effects and their bats heat up, as well.
Can Kipnis bring this sort of momentum right off the bat (pardon the terrible pun)? That’s a lot to ask, but at least a slight change may be able to do wonders for the team. Kipnis has always played well in his hometown of Chicago, hitting .326 against the White Sox last season with one home run and 12 RBI. He also had a monster June in 2013, when he hit .419 and a 1.216 OPS and 25 RBI.
He was charged with 12 errors in all of 2013 and had committed only three before his trip to the DL so far this season. With the team committing errors in nearly every game this season, Kipnis’ strength on the field can only be an asset to the roster.
The Kipnis of old would just be coming into the strongest part of his season. Perhaps he can come back with more promise than before, as he was able to sit back, watch his team play, and realize what works or doesn’t work for them on the field. His production and skill level may even be able to benefit from those observations, should he be able to apply them directly to his performances on the field now that he’s back.
As the Backstreet Boys asked, “Am I everything you need?” Is Kipnis everything the team needs? If he’s not the whole package, he has proven in the past that he is most of it – and that, more than anything, is what the Indians need right now.
Photo: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images