In 2013 Jason Kipnis was an American League All Star second baseman who played an important role in helping the Indians to that season’s Wild Card game. In 2014 Kipnis had his worst big league campaign and the Tribe offense stalled at times with one of its key players scuffling.
Needless to say, the Tribe could really use the Kipnis who made his Major League debut in 2011 and was one of the club’s best run producers from that point through 2013.
During Kipnis’ All-Star season, he belted 17 home runs with 84 RBI and stole 30 bases. That came on the heels of a 2012 campaign, his first full one in Cleveland, that saw the second baseman hit 14 homers, drive in 76, bat .256 and swipe 31 bags. In 2014, the power numbers dropped way down. He fell to 7 bombs, 41 RBI and hit .240. He added 22 steals.
Batting second in the lineup, typically, Kipnis is one of the team’s table setters, along with leadoff man Michael Bourn. When Kipnis is going right, he is getting on base frequently and is a threat to steal. Not only is he normally a threat to get on, but clearly has shown the ability to drive the ball out of the ball park. Last year Kipnis was not going right much of the time and the offense stagnated, often.
There are two major reasons, however, to think Kipnis can turn things around in 2015. Those are age and health. Kipnis is just really entering his prime as he will turn 28-years old on April 3. He is young enough to put a bad season behind him and continue to improve what he had been doing his first two and a half seasons in Cleveland.
Kipnis also spent time on the disabled list last year. Usually durable, Kipnis missed most of May with an oblique injury. Playing through it in April could explain the rough start he got off to, hitting only .236 in the season’s first month. He may never have been totally right upon his return, taking away some of his bat speed and power. An offseason to heal, should certainly help.
There is some worry, however, that Kipnis started to slide at the plate at the end of 2013, when he was healthy. He did, indeed, lag at the end of his best season. His first half numbers that made him an All-Star selection were 13 jacks, 57 RBI and .301 batting average. Comparatively, after the break, he hit 4 home runs, to go with 27 RBI and .261 average.
While Kipnis’ numbers did dip after the 2013 Mid Summer Classic, much of that can be attributed to a down August in which he hit just .250 – that was an aberration compared to the rest of the year. He rebounded with a nice .287 average in September and played a big role in the final month’s push to the postseason. The way the season ended, it is hard to say that he was scuffling and that carried into 2014.
It really seems his down year of a season ago was a one-off, at least to this point, thing. Many players have down years or injury-riddled ones and rebound. That very well could be the case for Kipnis.
With Kipnis getting on base and wreaking havoc, the Tribe has a much better lineup and poses a bigger threat to the rest of the American League. Kipnis gives another runner for the middle-of-the-order guys like Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Brandon Moss to drive in. He can also protect those guys and make it more difficult for pitchers to pitch around those other dangerous hitters.
If Bourn is healthy and doing his thing in front of Kipnis, that certainly helps the lineup a lot, as well. However, it is Kipnis, in the two hole, who is the igniter and the guy who can both run and hit.
Kipnis is very much the best bet of last year’s injury-riddled players to come back and get back on track. He may also be the most important. Two years ago, he seemed to be headed toward being one of the faces of the franchise. He can still get there. He just needs to stay healthy and get back to form.
Unlike Bourn or Nick Swisher, two guys who battled injuries last year, Kipnis is not in his 30s. It should be easier for him to shed the injuries as he does not have the wear and tear on his body as other guys do.
A return to form does not necessarily mean a return to the postseason for the Indians. However, it would certainly help the Tribe’s endeavor to get back there.
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