With one out in the first inning on August 4, Jason Kipnis crushed a long line drive into the bullpens of Progressive Field. MLB’s Statcast said the ball was traveling at 103.9 mph when it left Kipnis’s bat at a 30-degree launch angle and flew 444 feet. It was the fifth longest homer by an Indians player not named Mike Napoli and Kipnis’s second longest of the season.
It also just so happened to be his 18th dinger of the year, a new career high. Since then, he’s belted four more homers, pushing his season total to 22. And his power surge has been a big part of his stellar year at the plate, one that’s been overshadowed by the seasons of Napoli, Carlos Santana, and Francisco Lindor.
Kipnis has been the Tribe’s second-best batter behind Lindor according to FanGraphs version of wins above replacement, yet it seems that very little has been paid to his excellent season. Perhaps that’s because this type of season was expected of the consistent second baseman. After earning his second trip to the All-Star Game last year, the Tribe regular cemented himself as a cornerstone of the team. Before the season started, he was the only position player fans counted on to produce. Santana had consistency issues, Lindor only had a year of experience, and Michael Brantley was injured for an indefinite amount of time.
It’s easy to see why one would be taking Kipnis’s play for granted. But look at what he’s done for the Tribe. Kipnis is second on the team in runs batted in (77), third on the team in runs scored (82), and has a triple slash of .280/.347/.474. He’s also done really well according to advanced metrics as well. Weighted runs created tells us he’s been 18% better than league average (same as Lindor), and he ranks second on the team in win probability added.
That win probability added number reflects how well Kipnis has done in the clutch for the Tribe. With runners in scoring position, he’s batting a cool .295. It jumps up to .309 when there are two outs. When a teammate is in scoring position, Kipnis drives him in 45% of the time, well above league average (38%). When the Indians need to drive in a run, they turn to Kipnis to get it done – as long as Jose Ramirez hasn’t cleared the bases already.
In addition to coming through in the clutch, Kipnis has been the Tribe’s most consistent player. Only five times has he gone at least two games without a hit, with only one of those droughts lasting three games. And Kipnis has started in all but five games of the Tribe’s games this season, adding an additional pinch-hitting appearance as well. Every day he can be counted on to play and get a hit, especially if he didn’t get one in the previous game.
Hitting in the two hole, Kipnis has been a source of power for the Tribe. In addition to a career high in dingers, he also has his highest slugging percentage and isolated power since his first season in the majors.
Kipnis can attest his power surge to two things: more fly balls and more solid contact. In the past, he hit way more ground balls than fly balls. From 2011-2015, his ground ball percentage never dipped below 43%, while his fly ball percentage never exceeded 34%. Last season, 45% of his balls in play were hit on the ground and only 28% went in the air. This year it’s quite different. Kipnis only hits grounders 38% of the time and fly balls at about the same rate, 37% of the time. According to Statcast, he has increased his average launch angle by almost five degrees, one of the highest increases in the league.
Of course, hitting a bunch of fly balls only results in more power if you hit the ball hard. And Kipnis very rarely makes weak contact. FanGraphs says he has the fourth-lowest soft contact rate in the AL at 12.1%. Kipnis is driving the ball with authority and it has resulted in an abundance of extra-base hits.
The next time you’re partying at Napoli’s to celebrate his latest monster shot, be sure to go over to the Kipnis table. He’s having a great year that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Photo: AP Photo/Ron Schwane