As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the greats who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 22 days
When it comes to the core of the Indians, second basemen Jason Kipnis sits right there in the middle of that. After debuting in 2011, Kipnis has made two All-Star appearances and has worked his way to becoming one of the more elite second basemen in major league baseball. Coming into 2016, there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect the same thing from him.
Kipnis, 28, was drafted by the Indians in the second round of the 2009 draft. Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall was actually drafted in the first round of that draft as well. Fun fact! Anyways, back to the guy that the headline talks about. Kipnis has now spent four major league seasons with the Tribe, and it’s been quite the journey for him. In 2011, Kipnis impressed early with seven home runs, five stolen bases, and 19 RBI in 36 games. He then followed that with an even better 2012 where he hit 14 home runs and stole 31 bases in his first full season with the Indians, despite only posting a slash of .257/.335/.379.
In 2013, Kipnis was much more improved as he kept up his speed by stealing 33 bases and had a tick of power increase when he hit 17 home runs. He hit .284/.366/.452 and was also a 4.5 WAR player, which is extremely hard to do, or repeat. This was the first real season that Kipnis proved that he could become an elite level player, but unfortunately he was plagued by injuries in 2014, which really tempered people’s expectations for the second basemen.
The best thing that could have happened to Kipnis in 2015 was moving him to the leadoff spot. Kipnis floated throught the order to start off the season, usually around the second slot or third. When Terry Francona finally realized the Michael Bourn had no reason being at the top of the lineup, the doors opened for Kipnis, and he never seemed to look back. After taking over the lead off spot, Kipnis posted a wRC+ of 137, compared to hitting well below 100 at any other spot in the lineup. It just seemed that Kipnis was really able to get comfortable at the top of the lineup. Hitting leadoff takes a little pressure off of Kipnis, who is fairly notorious for wearing his emotions on his sleeve, especially on social media.
When he suffered the oblique injury in 2014, there was some doubt surrounding Kipnis that his power may be gone from then on out. While Kipnis only hit nine home runs in 2015, his ISO jumped from .090 in 2014 to .149 in 2015. He hit more doubles in 2015 than he has in his entire career. While he may never live up to the power output that some people thought that he may produce, his ability to leg out doubles and triples are part of what makes Kipnis such a strong leadoff hitter.
The biggest issue with Kipnis is how inconsistent he can be from month to month. A perfect example can be seen by looking at his splits between April and May. In April, Kipnis hit .218, and then in May he hit .429. Kipnis has always been a first half player, but sometimes he seems to only be a one- to two-month type of elite player. Granted, during those months, Kipnis is one of the better players in the majors, but when he is cold, he is extremely cold.
In 2015, Kipnis fared a little better after he began to cool down in the second half than he has in the past. In July, he posted a wRC+ of 106, but then followed in August and September with wRC+’s of 87 and 74. This can be attributed to a number of different variables, but it all can summarized by the fact that Kipnis just seems to look tired in the second half of the season. This is something that Kipnis will need to improve on as he continues to go throughout his career. The Indians have grown to understand the type of player that he is, but if he is to be one of the top players on this roster, he’ll need to do his best to try and improve his second half stats, and not falter when the team is pushing towards the playoffs.
In 2014, the Indians had one of the worst defensive infields in baseball and some of that can be attributed to Kipnis’ oblique injury, which severely affected his range at second base. Now that he’s healthy, he really showed off his leather last season. He posted a DRS of 1, which was a huge increase from 2014 where his DRS sat at -11.
Along with double play partner Francisco Lindor, and newly acquired defensive professionals Juan Uribe and Mike Napoli, the Indians look to have one of the best defensive infields that this team has seen since the mid-90’s. Their infield may be one of the best defensive infields in all of the MLB. A lot of that is because of Kipnis and his health.
After losing Jason Giambi after the 2014 season, Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, and Yan Gomes became the new leaders of the clubhouse. Kipnis creates one of the bigger presences on this team, not only because of what he can do in the game, but because of how vocal he can be off the field as well. His personality allows him to create a presence in which other people want to follow.
For Kipnis in 2016, it’s all about staying consistent from month to month and not fizzling out at the end of the season. This team will rely heavily on Kipnis, especially with Brantley being out in the first month of the season. After posting a 5 WAR season, there are big expectations for Kipnis, and there’s no doubt that he can post another season where he can be an elite level player.
Photo: Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports