Bust Candidate: Jason Kipnis

Marilyn Indahl

The debate is on for this year, who is the #1 second baseman for 2014? Considering that both Robinson Cano and Jason Kipnis are being selected within the top 20 this year, let's take a look and see if Jason Kipnis will justify the hype.

Jason Kipnis is a stud. Jason Kipnis is the best 2nd baseman in baseball. Jason Kipnis is the second (base) coming of Robinson Cano, with more speed and a little less pop. Or, maybe he's just the best first-half second baseman in the majors.

Pop! Did you hear that? That was the bubble wrap I was standing on, but it's also the sound you hear when Jason Kipnis enters the second half of the baseball year-yep, that's his fantasy value going down the toilet for your fantasy team in 2012 and 2013. So, what exactly should we expect from Jason Kipnis this year? Ray swears that he's the best keystoner in all of baseball since Cano just moved from the comfy confines of Yankee Stadium to Seattle, but the rest of the Fake Teams staff say no way, he'll continue to ride shotgun to Seattle's finest.

But, the main question is: Is Kipnis a bust?

Kipnis is not an unknown quantity anymore. Back to back seasons averaging 15+ HR and 30 SB with an career average .270 and .350 OBP have seen to that. However, it's now time to wonder if he can justify his top 20 overall ADP (#2 overall 2B) value, according to NESN. Let's again look a bit closer to see what we can see:

The Approach

He strikes out a bit too much (career 19.3%) but he couples that with an above-average walk rate (career 10.4%) so we cannot be too picky about that now can we? He also boasts an above league average BABIP, probably due in large part to his speed in beating out grounders (league average 45%), and an insanely low pop-up rate (only 1.5% in 2013, #7 overall). Speaking of the pop outs, the crazy-low rate from last year led to a career-best 24.7% LD rate, which still puts him just a shade below league average but helped increase his doubles total from 22 to 36 last year. He swung a little less overall last year, both inside and outside the zone, and his contact rate dropped slightly. However, his very nice swinging strike rate held steady at 6.8% so his approach seems largely unchanged thus far in his career. For 2014 I would expect the IFFB% to come up a bit, although he's not particularly prone to popups, and so you can expect a slight decline in LD%. So, all that being said, expect a decline in BABIP, from .345 in 2013 closer to a career norm of about .320. Consequently, a batting average of about .270 or so seems reasonable.

The Power

Well, Jason Kipnis is approaching his age 27 season. In the past we'd expect some monstrous numbers during the "magic year," but those in know, know (or is it no-no?) that Jeff Zimmerman is teaching us new things about how players age. So, it's safe to say that in this day and age we've already witnessed Kip's power peak. The batted ball distance did increase about 4 feet from 2012 to 2013, where he came in at #96 overall, just behind Cano and Jedd Gyorko at 2b. This coincided with a bump in his HR/FB rate, from 9.7% to 12.4%. Playing in Cleveland will continue to help his left-handed bat (park factor of 105 for lefty homeruns), so I expect him to at least maintain his power output this year. Let's pencil him in for about 15 HR.

The Speed

He's an above average base-stealer (about 77% success rate), on a team that is above-average overall running team (top 7 in stolen bases and SB%). Although he'll be 27 this year, I still expect him to be able to pilfer 25 bags or so.

The Counting Stats

Some of Kipnis' value will be determined by whether or not Michael Bourn can return to being an above-average leadoff man. He was a below average wOBA player for the first time since 2010 last year. If his walk rate, and subsequent OBP, continues to decline there will be fewer guys for Kipnis to drive in, hence I can see why STEAMER and Oliver both project him for less than 70 RBI. I'll be slightly more optimistic and say 75 because I don't think Bourn will be as bad next year as he was in 2013. He remains entrenched in the 3-spot on the top 6 offensive team from last year so the rest of his stats should look similar. Interestingly enough the Fans projections over at Fangraphs are way more optimistic overall on Kipnis, giving him 19 HR, 94 R, 84 RBI, and 33 SB. If that's what most people are thinking then his ADP value will rise even higher as that combination of power and speed just doesn't exist at the position these days.

For me, I'm giving him an overall slash of something like .270/.350/.440 with 15 HR, 75 RBI, 80 Runs, and 26 SB.

The Rub

So far in his young career Kipnis is beginning to be labeled as a first-half guy only. From 2011-13 his second half stats are about 40 points lower in batting average and 30 points lower in OBP, although he maintains an almost identical K/BB ratios. His power also disappears during the dog days of summer, whereby his ISO is 46 points less than his first half stats. One is left to speculate at this point as to the reasons: perhaps his conditioning isn't sufficient-he tends to trade fly balls (-3%) and line drives (-2%) for grounders (+5%) in the second half. Who knows? What we do know is that if you're playing in a head-to-head league you better take notice as he may not be able to help you come playoff time. Roto leaguers, however, can take Kip's overall stat line to the bank.

Conclusions

From 2011-13, Jason Kipnis was a top 8 second baseman in terms of wOBA, 4th overall in SB, and 3rd overall in BB% (despite only logging 1480 PAs). He's got above average power numbers for a 2B, he's still relatively young, and plays at an offensively-starved position. Does he justify a top 20 ADP? Possibly, but it depends on the league format. I'd have more trepidation in a H2H league, but would be very pleased with those numbers in roto. The bottom line, for me, is I don't like paying for a player's career year. Since I don't see Kipnis eclipsing his 2013 numbers, I'd wait on keystone until later in the draft. Considering E5, Adrian Beltre, Yasiel Puig, Evan Longoria, and Freddie Freeman are all being selected around the same time, I'd be tempted to go another direction this year.

For our purposes though, I highly doubt he'll wear the "bust" label at the end of this year.

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