Which Kipnis is the Real Deal: The 2013 All-Star or 2014 Struggle?
Laurel Wilder | On 11, Sep 2014
He ended last season on a team that made it to the postseason, after being named an American League All-Star as part of the 2013 Midsummer Classic. He started this season with a celebration of his six-year, $52 million contract. Jason Kipnis seems to be ending 2014, however, on a much lower note.
After battling an oblique injury early in the season, Kipnis has fallen from a standout, breakout star to a player who is battling a year of career-lows. It’s safe to say that this is not the season Kipnis envisioned for himself — or the one that the team envisioned him having.
Hitting for neither power nor average this season, Kipnis went from batting a career-high .284 last season to .248 thus far in 2014. He also had a career-high 57 extra-base hits in 2013, this year having only 31 on the season. Kipnis also fell from 17 homers in 2013 to six this season. His OPS has sunk from .818 to .664. The bottom line: there’s been little to no improvement made by Kipnis this season.
As mentioned, Kipnis suffered from an oblique injury early in the season and missed a month healing and rehabbing. After an April that had him hitting .234 in 27 games with 22 hits, six doubles, and three home runs, Kipnis played in only three games in the month of May, with two hits, one walk, and one strikeout.
The rest of his season has fared quite similarly. Kipnis had his highest average of the season in August, when he hit .261 in 27 games. To say that he was hot in August, however, would be a stretch. Kipnis has hardly been hot at all this season, leaving fans to wonder what could possibly be the problem and what, if anything, could be the solution.
His injury is the first and most obvious reason provided for the results that Kipnis has (or, more aptly, hasn’t) produced this season. The traditional recovery time for an oblique injury is, at a minimum, between six and eight weeks before a player can return to play the game. Since an oblique injury occurs along the player’s entire torso, it affects that player’s ability to fully rotate when at the plate, making effective batting near impossible. Is there a chance that Kipnis has been feeling the lasting effects of his early-season injury when at the plate? Of course. Maybe he’s still trying to take it easy to ensure he doesn’t do further damage. But at this point in the season, about four months after the trip to the DL, when your team is in the middle of a play-off push, taking it easy seems that it would be the last thing on a competitive player’s mind.
Kipnis has been a player who has visibly developed his already-strong talents throughout his Major League tenure, and didn’t go from zero to hero overnight. Because of his ability to evolve, it doesn’t seem likely that a hot streak for Kipnis would be a rarity; in fact, the lackluster season is the aspect of his performance that seems an anomaly, if anything.
Terry Francona has been quoted by Cleveland.com as saying that, if any player has the ability to hit a hot streak at the end of the season, that player would be Kipnis. Francona said what fans have been saying all season, that Kipnis is not hitting as he knows he can, and that his increased performance in the last weeks of the season would turn the Indians into a completely different team.
Francona also expressed his continued confidence in Kipnis, which furthers the idea that his slumping season is just a fluke and possibly a result of his early-season injury.
Though Francona has faith in Kipnis to heat up as the season ends, it seems unlikely that Kipnis will revert fully into the Kipnis of old and make much of a difference, though not out of the question. It seems much more probable, however, that 2015 will be the opportunity for Kipnis to demonstrate that he still has “it.”
Having strong seasons following seasons of struggle and injury are not impossible, especially within the Indians’ organization. Cliff Lee started the 2007 season on the DL and struggled when he returned to the team in May. He was sent to the Indians AAA affiliate and appeared in only four games when he was called back up to the Major League team on September 1. However, Lee completely turned things around in 2008, pitching a career-season in which he went 22-2 and was awarded the AL Cy Young Award in November 2008.
Is that to say that Kipnis can be an All-Star again in 2015? Maybe. If he is able to return to the strong hitter that he was last season, it’s certainly possible he could return to receiving accolades, as well. However, the question of 2015 is further complicated by the impending arrival of Francisco Lindor to the Major League club and the question of what to do with Jose Ramirez. When Lindor finally makes his much-anticipated debut (which has been long talked about as possibly happening next season), he will naturally be taking over the role of shortstop, meaning that Ramirez, who has been playing short since Asdrubal Cabrera’s departure, will need to be moved. Since Ramirez is so young, continuing to give him consistent playing time is vital, so moving him to another infield position seems to be the smartest decision. Is a pairing of Lindor at short and Ramirez at second the future of the Indians’ infield? If so, what does one do with Kipnis?
It seems silly to replace either Lonnie Chisenhall at third or Carlos Santana at first, given the amount of work each has put in to learning those positions this season. Would it be possible to put Kipnis in the outfield if need be? Just because Lindor and Kipnis would be playing regularly does not mean that Kipnis would have no opportunity to fill in when they need a day off. Could Kipnis be an outfielder and utility infielder next season if it comes to it? The situation can’t be completely ruled out.
Time is the the only thing that will show fans and the team if Kipnis is a player simply suffering from a bad year, or if more is at play in his performance this season. In the meantime, all that can be done is to maintain the same confidence held by Francona, and hope that, as the weather cools down, Kipnis’ bat heats up, and we start next season with as much to celebrate about him as before.
Photo: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images