Jason Kipnis has had a fair share of critics over the last couple seasons, and I for one, would be one of the bigger.
Since the first half of 2012, Kipnis has had less than flattering statistics for most of his career. In his first full year in the big leagues Kipnis seemed to be on his way to stardom when he hit .277 with 11 home runs and drove in 49 during the first half of the season. Kipnis was on the cusp of being an All-Star, but Rangers manager Ron Washington selected Michael Young instead and the first-year player would have to wait another year for All-Star stardom. I happen to be in the clubhouse that day in Baltimore when he found out he was not selected. He and his teammates were visibly disappointed for him and they deserved to be.
Kipnis didn’t have the second half in 2012 that would have proven Washington wrong. Instead, he struggled, hitting .215 with three homers and only driving in 27. He was part of the 2012 slide that eventually led to the firing of Manny Acta, the hiring of Terry Francona and a roster revitalization.
In 2013, Kipnis did make his first and only All-Star appearance. This time, he left them no choice to include him, hitting .419 in the month of June. Francona even noted it at the time, stating, “he just wasn’t going to be left out again.” And he wasn’t, even hitting a double and driving in a run to put the game away for the American League.
And while Kipnis’ 2013 second half was not as poor as 2012’s, it still was not as strong as his first half. He hit .261 with four home runs and 27 driven in. That slow 2013, combined with a very disappointing 2014—supposedly the result of playing through a strained oblique—brought out the critics wondering if Kipnis was just an average player who had a couple good months and parlayed his way into an All-Star appearance.
Now healthy in 2015, it seems Kipnis is standing at the crossroads between being a good early season player or catapulting himself into elite status in the American League. Kipnis had an impressive month in June 2014, but the month he just completed this May has historical context. He’ll likely be named American League Player of the Month after hitting .429, with 51 hits, 22 extra-base hits, 30 runs, 17 walks, 15 doubles and a .518 on-base percentage. In a game built upon failure, Kipnis defied logic and reached base more times than he did not in the month of May.
Kipnis had 51 hits in the month of May. Only 50 players in all of Major League Baseball have 50 or more hits this season.
While Kipnis has had big months before, this one seems a little different. It’s certainly unfair to expect him to keep anything like this pace up, but he if he can break the mold of it just being a strong month before reverting to mediocrity, Kipnis has an excellent chance to achieve much more than just an All-Star appearance. At this point, it seems a formality that Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost would select Kipnis to the mid-summer classic in Cincinnati this July.
If Kipnis can break the mold of one good month, or one good half of a season, he has the chance to put himself in elite status and contend for the American League MVP title, something Michael Brantley quietly did a year ago. Currently, Kipnis leads American League position players with a 3.4 WAR, ahead of last season’s MVP, Mike Trout. Only Dallas Keuchel, Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt are ahead of Kipnis in all of baseball. He’s second in hits and batting average in the American League behind Prince Fielder and fourth in runs scored. His 16 doubles puts him just one behind his teammate Brantley.
The critics are very quiet right now, and for good reason, there is nothing to be critical about. If Kipnis can put together a full season at the plate, he’ll catapult himself into elite status around the league, along with his teammate Brantley. More importantly, his emergence and leadership with Brantley has given the struggling offense a transfusion of fire power at the top of the order. Together, Kipnis and Brantley have created as strong of a 1-2 offensive punch as any two players in the league. That offense is a key to the Tribe winning 10 of their last 13.
Their prolonged consistency is likely one of the keys to the Indians making a strong push back into the Central Division race.
Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP Photo