Is Jason Kipnis a Bounce-Back Candidate in Fantasy Baseball?
Jason Kipnis entered the 2014 season as the second-ranked fantasy second baseman according to our projections.
While our numbers predicted a slight decline from his impressive 2013 campaign, we still had him tabbed for a strong .810 OPS to go along with 16 home runs and 25 steals. Our projections were in line with the common opinion that Kipnis would well-worth be an early round selection in 2014 fantasy drafts.
Welp. That didn’t turn out so well.
It is fair to call 2014 something of a complete disaster for Kipnis. After signing a six-year, $52.5 million extension at the onset of the season, expectations were set high for Kipnis, who was coming off of his first All-Star appearance in 2013. His numbers dropped across the board in striking fashion, as he turned in a mediocre 1.0 fWAR, just a year removed from a 4.4 fWAR season.
Kipnis was immensely valuable in 2013, which earned him his hefty contract, as well as a lofty draft-day price in fantasy baseball leagues. Both the Indians and fantasy owners have to feel burned by his huge drop-off in 2014, and it is worth examining what to expect from him moving forward. Was Kipnis' big season a fluke, or will he turn back the clock to his 2013 form? Let’s take a look.
By the Numbers
It was as if Kipnis was a completely different player from one year to the next.
The difference in wRC+ is especially staggering, as he went from being 29% better than average offensively in 2013 to 14% below average last season. The drop in nERD, numberFire’s own signature baseball statistic measuring how many runs above average a player contributes per game (in a 27-out game), is another great way to see just how far Kipnis fell. Per nERD, he was slightly above league average in 2014, but was more than a full run-and-a-half per-game better in 2013.
Part of the drop in average can be attributed to his inflated batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in 2013. The league average for BABIP sits around .300, and Kipnis boasted a .345 figure during his career year. His line drive percentage did jump a bit that year but not enough to reason that his BABIP was sustainable or due to any fundamental difference in his hitting.
His demise in 2013 ultimately comes down to two main factors. First, he was not nearly as successful hitting fastballs last year as he was in 2013. His wFB, a Fangraphs statistic measuring how many total runs above average a hitter performed against a certain pitch type (in this case a fastball), was 17.7 in 2013. That mark put Kipnis amongst the 25 best fastball hitters in the entire league, a far cry from his performance in 2014. Last year, he had a wFB of -0.3, putting him outside of the top 300. However, his lack of fastball hitting is not the only thing that killed Kipnis. Just take a look at his performance against left-handers.
Lefties Love Kipnis
Over the course of his career, Kipnis has been a much better hitter against righties than lefties. Seeing as he hits lefty, this is not exactly shocking news. Overall, his wRC+ against righties is 119, and that number drops to 86 against lefties. It is a significant difference but not uncommon at all.
In 2013, Kipnis seemingly corrected his left-hander woes in a major way. In fact, he actually performed better against lefties that year than against right-handers. He did not match that success last year -- at all. The following is a table comparing his performance against lefties in 2013 and 2014.
|Splits vs. Lefties||Pitches||OBP||Slugging||HR/FB||LD%||wRC+|
Calling these stats night-and-day is not painting a strong enough picture about how far apart this production is. A 44 wRC+ is putrid, while his 138 figure in 2013 is All-Star caliber. He hit far fewer line drives, resulting in a steep drop off in OBP and slugging. The way Kipnis performed against lefties last year is not MLB-caliber. The way he produced in 2013 is elite.
Why this staggering difference? Well, part of it can be chalked up to his absurd .390 BABIP against lefties in 2013. The figure is likely an aberration, propping up his numbers against lefties and, thus, his overall production. He did not see that high BABIP against lefties return in 2014, and it cost him dearly. Further, some interesting information can be gleaned from taking a look at his spray charts. The differences are not exactly astounding, but it is clear that Kipnis had far more success driving the ball to the opposite field against lefties in 2013 than he did last year.
Kipnis in 2015
Count me as among those who are doubtful that Kipnis will ever return to his 2013 glory. Although, I think there is a middle-ground between his past two seasons that he could reach, still making him a potentially valuable player.
ZiPs, Dan Szymborski’s projection system, has Kipnis pegged for a .256/.330/.388 slash line in 2015. It certainly would not match the level of performance we saw from him in 2013, but given his strong base stealing numbers and slight power, it is a slash line fantasy owners could easily live with.
Last year was a disaster for Kipnis, and there is little to suggest he can repeat his All-Star season.
However, his speed is for real, and he has more power than he displayed last year. While he will likely never crush lefties the way he did in 2013, his complete incompetence against them from 2014 likely will not reoccur either. If you want to nab Kipnis is fantasy drafts, do not pay the pre-2014 price but rather a middle-round option tag that carries some risk.