Fantasy Baseball: Jason Kipnis Is a Solid Buy-Low Option
In many ways, 2017 was a year to forget for Jason Kipnis.
A myriad of injuries kept the veteran off the field, limiting him to just 90 games played. And when he was on the field, his offense was quite bad, posting a triple slash of just .232/.291/.414, which was good for just an 82 wRC+. While his slugging percentage was around his career average (.422), his batting average and on-base percentage fell well below his typical production, and that wRC+ mark of his tied for the lowest of his career.
This combination of injuries and poor play saw the Cleveland Indians shop their longtime second baseman this past winter ahead of his age-31 campaign, nearly resulting in a trade with the New York Mets.
These things -- injuries, diminished production, and age -- make Kipnis look like someone to easily avoid in season-long fantasy baseball leagues in 2018. However, there are a lot of underlying statistics that make him someone people should take a flier on late in drafts, especially with a current Average Draft Position of 251.45, per the NFBC.
A Little Unlucky
While his 2017 season was wildly unproductive, there are some reasons beyond his control that hurt his numbers. The below table compares last year's hard-hit rate (Hard%), walk rate (BB%), strikeout rate (K%), and BABIP to his career numbers, showing us there's a chance to bounce back.
The first three columns look eerily similar to one another. Despite all of his injuries, he managed to keep his hard-hit rate close to what it typically has been throughout his career. He walked less frequently than normal, but it wasn't a huge drop-off, and he didn't sacrifice more strikeouts while he struggled.
A drastic change in his BABIP is the obvious thing that stands out here, as it settled in below .300 for the third time as a big leaguer. The other two occurrences happened in 2012 and 2014, which were also disappointing offensive campaigns (100 wRC+ in 2012, 82 in 2014).
He also managed to make similar contact in 2017 when compared to the rest of his career -- his contact rate checked in at 80.1%, which was the sixth straight season he get that number above 80.0%.
A Strong September
As one can imagine, Kipnis was a below-average hitter in nearly every month of the 2017 season. The highest wRC+ he posted in any individual month -- before September -- was 94 in July. He did finish the regular season on a high note in September thanks to a .273/.342/.455 triple slash and 109 wRC+, giving us another reason to envision a bounce-back campaign in 2018.
More importantly, his BABIP climbed back up to .320, much more in line with his career norms. A stat line like the one he posted last September is well within the realm of possibilities for Kipnis as long as his approach remains similar. We can also be encouraged by his spring-training performance thus far. These stats must be taken with a grain of salt, but he does own a 1.767 OPS with a league-leading 6 home runs through his first 28 at-bats, and has only struck out 4 times.
Reasons for Concern
Of course, there is no buy-low target that is free from risk -- they are available late in drafts for a reason.
Kipnis is older (though far from over the hill), and his injuries were more than k. It is entirely possible that he keeps getting hurt, and availability is an important attribute. He cannot help your fantasy team if he gets comfy on the disabled list.
It's also worth noting that while his hard-hit rate was close to what he typically produces, he generated soft contact more than ever. His 22.1% soft-hit rate is well above his career rate (15.0%), which is something we should monitor along the way.
Despite some red flags, Kipnis is a worthy buy-low target. He can provide some power from the middle infield -- especially since he's set and re-set career-highs in fly-ball rate each of the last two seasons. Joining the fly-ball revolution will likely hurt his BABIP, but hitting more home runs can make up for it. A season like his September 2017 numbers is entirely possible and certainly a bargain in the latter half of a fantasy baseball draft.