Bats: Left Throws: Right
Acquired: 2nd round pick, 2009
2014 Salary: ~$500,000 (3rd year of pre-arbitration eligibility)
Jason Kipnis made his Indians debut late in 2011 as a highly-touted prospect and put up an OPS+ of 133 in 150 plate appearances, over the season's final couple months, leading Tribe fan to salivate over the this apparent All-Star in the making. His power plummeted in 2012 though, with only 40 extra-base hits, as his OPS+ dropped to 102, basically league average. This led many to overlook the fact that his walk-rate shot up and his defense improved (he didn't play 2B until 2010).
Entering 2013, I was still very optimistic about Kipnis (in March I wrote that the Indians ought to work out a long-term extension, concluding they could secure Kipnis through 2019 for $40 million), but not everyone shared that view. Matters were not helped when Kipnis came out of the gate with a .200/.269/.286 line for April, with just one home run, giving him a wRC+ (which adjusts a player's hitting for league and parks) of just 53, one of the worst in the league among regular players.
Kipnis turned around in May though, hitting 6 home runs in a two-week stretch and lifting his OPS by 200 points over the course of the month. Then Kipnis took things to a whole other level, posting one of the greatest months by any player in franchise history. He reached base safely in all 27 games he appeared in, and reached safely multiple times in 17 games. On June 28, during a double-header in his hometown of Chicago, Kipnis collected 4 hits, including 3 doubles, and also walked 4 times. He scored 4 runs in the first game alone, then added a fifth in the nightcap. I was at the ballpark, and it was one of the most impressive performances He had 17 extra-base hits on the month, and posted a batting line of .419/.517/.699, easily enough to win him American League Player of the Month honors.
Kipnis hit the break with a .301/.383/.514 line, along with 21 stolen bases (in 26 attempts) making him one of the dozen or so best players in MLB. He was named to the AL All-Star team for the first time in his career, and after entering the game late he hit an RBI-double off baseball's best closer, Craig Kimbrel, in his only at bat.
Kipnis' production slowed after the break, though with a 102 wRC+, he was still a better than average hitter (especially given that league-average for wRC+ by second basemen was 91 this season). His walk rate stayed solid, but the power waned. After 37 extra-base hits from April through June, he had just 20 from July through August. Again, that's a respectable figure for a 2B, just not a great one.
His overall numbers though, were very strong:
|162 Game Avg.||162||711||168||32||4||18||32||7||74||137||.270||.349||.424||.773||118|
The overall rebound in his power was great to see, as it makes the difference between a pretty good hitter and a very good one. His walk rate got even better, at 11.6% he led all American League second basemen. Kipnis's OPS+ this year was 133, right back where it was in that small sample he gave us in 2011. That figure ranked him 3rd among all second basemen, behind only Robinson Cano and Matt Carpenter, each of whom placed in the top 5 in their respective league's MVP voting.
Kipnis stole 30+ bases for the second straight year, with a strong success rate each time as well; in addition to being one of the very best hitters at his position, he's also one of the bes base runners. Kipnis' defense did not look as good in 2013, both according to various metrics available and to my own eye test (which shouldn't really count for anything, but since I was on the topic...). Whether that picks back up or not remains to be seen. With mediocre defense, he's still a really, really good player. If he can work himself into being an above-average defender and keep his offense where it was this season, he'll be counted among the game's most valuable players at any position.
Speaking of which, Kipnis was listed on 13 American League MVP ballots, placing as high as 5th, giving him a total of 31 points, good for 11th place. And as you see here, he is Let's Go Tribe's choice as 2013 Cleveland Indians MVP too.