Jason Kipnis: Best month by an Indian ever?

USA TODAY Sports

Jason Kipnis was the best player in baseball in June. Where does his month rank among the very greatest in franchise history?


Jason Kipnis
has been scorching hot for and ought to win the American League Player of the Month award and be named to the AL All-Star team this week. Kipnis' slash line for June: .419/.517/.699. He had 17 extra-base hits in the month and drove in 25 runs (he also stole 9 bases). I wrote about his recent performance last week, then he went and had another incredible series, this time against the White Sox (in his hometown of Chicago, where he's killed the ball during his young career). Kipnis' June has had me wondering when the Indians last had someone with a month this good at the plate, so I decided to find out.

There are a few different ways of defining "best," some more objective than others. There's likely to be some imbalance between the highest counting totals (home runs, hits, etc.) and the highest rate stats (batting average, OPS, etc,). Generally speaking, I think rate stats give you a better sense of how good someone has been, with the caveat that a player needs to have played a fair amount before his stats are considered against anyone else's.

Using rate stats (batting average, on-base percentage, etc.), you're going to find a lot of season from the mid to late 90s and early 2000s near the top of any list, because offense was at such high league-wide levels in those years, so you want to account for that sort of thing. OPS+ does that, but it undervalues getting on base. RC+* is similar, but a bit better, because it more accurately reflects how valuable OBP is. What should the playing time cutoff be? There isn't a right answer, but I'm going with 100 plate appearances for the month. It's a round number and roughly the number it takes per month to end up with a qualified season.

*For those unfamiliar, RC+ adjusts a player's production to account for the era and park(s) he plays in (because hitting in Denver's Coors Field in 1998 isn't the same as hitting in Seattle's Safeco Field in 2012) and scaled so that 100 is league average and every point above or below 100 equates to being one percentage point better or worse than league average (110 means 10% better, 90 means 10% worse, etc.).

The only problem I ran into with using RC+ is that it's only available for monthly splits going back to 1974 (at Fangraphs, if you'd like to peruse the numbers yourself). So, I'm going to present the top months from the last forty years using RC+, then do a separate list for 1916-1973, using OPS+ (via Baseball-Reference). I can't tell you what Nap Lajoie's monthly splits for the Tribe looked like, because there isn't complete game-by-game data for 1915 or before.

Top RC+ in a month by an Indian, 1974-2013 (min. 100 PA):

Rank

Player

Month

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS+

RC+

1

Jim Thome

July 2001

124

.381

.516

.804

246

238

2

Jim Thome

August 2002

112

.337

.500

.819

247

234

3

Albert Belle

May 1994

110

.416

.527

.809

246

232

4

Jason Kipnis

June 2013

118

.419

.517

.699

239

231

t5

Albert Belle

Sept/Oct 1995*

120

.313

.420

.929

252

227

t5

Jim Thome

August 1996

119

.407

.538

.813

249

227

7

Travis Hafner

August 2006

122

.361

.484

.856

243

226

8

Albert Belle

August 1995

137

.381

.456

.847

230

225

9

Manny Ramirez

Sept/Oct 1999

103

.360

.524

.800

241

223

10

Manny Ramirez

May 1995

112

.394

.459

.808

228

221

t11

David Justice

April 1997

106

.386

.509

.747

231

218

t11

David Justice

August 1997

122

.385

.475

.769

224

218

13

Jim Thome

Sept/Oct 2002

111

.341

.477

.727

219

211

14

Manny Ramirez

Sept/Oct 2000

140

.383

.493

.765

227

209

15

Travis Hafner

July 2004

103

.360

.451

.744

207

206


*September and October are traditionally counted as one month of the regular season, and I've stuck with that for this project. March and April work the same way, but the Indians have only played in March in three seasons, and none of those March/Aprils made the list.

Kipnis comes in at #4 for the last forty years, just behind two of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Jim Thome has 4 of the top 15, while Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez each have 3, and Travis Hafner and David Justice each have 2. All 15 seasons come from just six hitters, and it's very impressive company that Kipnis is keeping (and mostly beating) by landing on the list.

Top OPS+ in a month by an Indian, 1916-1973 (min. 100 PA):

Rank

Player

Month

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS+

RC+

1

Tris Speaker

Sept/Oct 1923

147

.445

.561

.709

253

-

2

Tris Speaker

July 1923

155

.489

.536

.766

242

-

3

Larry Doby

August 1950

103

.349

.476

.747

233

-

4

Joe Sewell

August 1923

112

.456

.529

.700

232

-

5

Tris Speaker

June 1916

116

.412

.474

.559

230

-

6

Al Rosen

May 1954

125

.366

.452

.752

228

-

7

Tris Speaker

July 1916

125

.424

.529

.505

227

-

8

Larry Doby

Sept/Oct 1953

100

.363

.485

.713

226

-

9

Tris Speaker

July 1920

147

.455

.532

.636

225

-

10

Lou Boudreau

August 1948

126

.449

.516

.645

222

-

11

Al Rosen

Sept/Oct 1953

116

.392

.491

.680

220

-

t12

Tris Speaker

May 1920

120

.392

.491

.629

219

-

t12

Earl Averill

July 1936

142

.451

.486

.759

219

-

14

Earl Averill

Sept/Oct 1934

142

.322

.418

.653

214

-

15

Earl Averill

May 1938

109

.366

.459

.688

211

-

Tris Speaker sure, could hit couldn't he? He leads the older list with 6 of the top 15 seasons, including 3 of the top 5. Of the 30 months on these lists, 1 came in April*, 5 in May, 2 in June, 6 in July, 8 in August, and 8 in September/October. It seems notable that so many of them came iate in their respective season.

*Seasons started later in earlier season, so there weren't a lot of players collecting 100 PA in April back then.

My choice as the best for each month:

April: David Justice, 1997

May: Albert Belle, 1994

June: Jason Kipnis, 2013

July: Jim Thome, 2001

August: Jim Thome, 2002

Sept/Oct: Tris Speaker, 1923

Tris Speaker's September/October of 1923 has the highest OPS+, and while his RC+ would probably be lower (for the 15 seasons in the 1974-2013 list, RC+ is an average of 12 points lower than OPS+), I suspect Speaker would still take the top spot for RC+, if it was available.

Tris Speaker's September/October of 1923 gets my vote for best month by an Indians hitter, but Kipnis is in the discussion. Speaker, Thome, and Belle are the only hitters to have a month I'd put ahead of the one Jason Kipnis just completed. If you see the man, tip your hat.

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