Jason Kipnis has been on an absolute tear for the Indians over the last few weeks and has better numbers than any other second baseman in the American League.
You may recall that Kipnis got off to a very slow start to the season. At the end of April his batting line was .200/.269/.286. He'd hit just 1 home run and had struck out in 30% of his at bats. They probably won't admit it today, but there were a couple readers here at Let's Go Tribe calling for him to be demoted to Columbus. Since the start of May though, Kipnis' line is a stellar .321/.405/.595. He's hit 10 home runs, to go with 16 doubles and 3 triples.
If you look at just June, forget being the best second baseman, Kipnis has been the best hitter in the American League, period. His line for the month is .405/.500/.658. He's also stolen 7 bases, while being caught just once. Kipnis' RC+ (a metric which adjusts a player's OPS for league/park/etc., like OPS+, but with more appropriate weight for OBP) is a scalding 219 this month, second on that list (min. 60 PA) is Miguel Cabrera, at 201. Kipnis ought to be the leading candidate for American League Player of the Month, an honor no Indian has won since Shin-Soo Choo in 2008.
I called Kipnis the best second baseman in the American League though, and that's not to be based on just one incredible month though, so let's look to his overall numbers, dreadful April included, and see how he stacks up against the competition. Who is the competition? Well, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia are the AL's standard bearers for the position and both are doing well again. I'm also going to include Howie Kendrick of the Angels, who's having a fine season in his own right. Here are some key numbers for those four:
Going by offense alone in 2013, there's not much of an argument, I don't think. Kipnis has been the best. In my opinion, RC+ is the single best statistic for hitting, and Kipnis is ahead comfortably. Even if you're not sure about all these park factors/effects, Kipnis' straight OPS is better than the other guys' too (you should buy into park effects though!). I don't doubt Pedroia is the better fielder, but Kipnis has become solid on defense, and for my money, the edge he's got with the bat is enough to counteract Pedroia's defensive advantage. Certainly there are reasons to have more confidence in the offensive statistical measurements than the defensive ones (for any player).
A couple days back there was some debate in the comments about the All-Star Game, whether it's for the players having the best first-half of this year, or the players who've been the best over the last X number of years. I don't have strong feelings about it, but it seems to me that the fans get to vote in the players they most want to see (which is a lot of Orioles this year, apparently), but I like seeing bench spots go to guys who are having strong seasons. Yes, this sometimes leads to selections that look a little silly in hindsight, but I can live with that (every team having to have a representative leads to at least as many silly choices).
Robinson Cano is going to be the American League's second baseman when the starting lineups are announced at the end of next week. He hasn't been the best second baseman this year, but he's a tremendous player, and I don't mind seeing him receive that honor. Kipnis should be named to the team though, his production this season certainly merits it. Frankly, there doesn't even need to be a "Kipnis OR Pedroia" decision, because there's room on the roster for both.
We'll know soon enough if Kipnis makes the team or not. If he doesn't, I'll be bummed out (I feel the same way about Carlos Santana), but I'll get over it pretty quickly, because whether or not a guy gets named to the All-Star team is not all that important to me. That isn't what this post is about. This post is about a guy developing into a great player, something that deserves attention.
Do you remember when Kipnis came up for the final quarter of the 2011 season and killed the ball? Tribe fans were salivating about his production, thinking to themselves, "If this guy can draw a few more walks, and get the hang of playing second base, what a player he could be!" Well... In 2013, Kipnis has become that player.