Indians

Jason Kipnis’ struggles roll on as Tribe falls to San Diego, 1-0

With both teams donning stars and stripes to celebrate Independence Day, the Cleveland Indians lost to the Padres by a score of 1-0. Perhaps most striking is second baseman Jason Kipnis continues to bat lead off, stranding four runners in one evening alone.

For Kipnis this is a microcosm of what has been a frustrating season strewn with unproductive plate appearances and an inability to execute double plays because of a mediocre transfer as well as a squirt gun arm. The second part of that sentence has alway been the case as Kipnis has always had arm and transfer issues at second. Indeed, Kipnis deserves praise for becoming an average defender at second having transitioned from playing outfield in college. He’s a relentless worker who has earned a ton of fans while embodying such an ethos. Yet Kipnis’ small defensive issues were always covered by tremendous offensive production—except for 2014 and the first half of 2017.

In 2014, Kipnis’ worst season as a big leaguer, he was suffering from an oblique injury which sapped his mobility and offensive production to a replacement level season. In 2017, Kipnis entered the regular season with similar concerns as he was shut down for nearly a month this spring with a strained rotator cuff. In reviewing Kipnis’ early offensive production it appears that the injury which plagued him to begin 2017 has its grips on his contact authority.

Kipnis is running his lowest BABIP1 since the injury plagued 2014 season, a mark of .245 with an xBABIP2 of .267. While there is some suggestion of positive regression, Kipnis is performing significantly worse than his career BABIP of .315.

Time for the three major inputs to contact quality: Exit velocity, launch angle, and contact dispersal. Indians twitter analyst Gage Will noted the exit velocity decline:

For a visual representation of Kipnis’ exit velocity decline review the following rolling averages chart.

Kipnis is also have significant launch angle issues, while elevating the ball is generally better, Kipnis is hitting to many high-degree fly balls which are better known as the hitters great enemy—popups. Another problem for Kipnis who has long been a pull-dominant hitter is for whom opposing teams have begun to shift more frequently than in past seasons. In 64 of his 196 plate appearances in 2017,  Kipnis has been shifted which is a shift rate of roughly 32 percent, whereas Kipnis was shifted roughly 24 percent of the time in 2016.

It should be noted before continuing that in one area Kipnis has outperformed his career average is isolated power. It’s also worth noting that he has done so to only marginal extent, and his ISO is down 30 points from his 2016 season.

Kipnis has a threefold problem, contact authority, contact launch angle, and an increasing number of shifts. The scale of the exit velocity decline is most concerning. I will immediately note the disclaimer that I operate with no medical license or inordinately technical understanding of the human body. However, with an enormous exit velocity dropoff and a launch angle differences, I suggest that Kipnis’ rotator cuff injury may be limiting his offensive production. Further, if this injury continues to nag his body over the course of the season it is difficult to expect a significant uptick in production unless the problem is redressed.

One thing I do know: He has absolutely no business hitting lead off during these struggles.

  1. batting average on balls in play which reflects a player’s contact authority, contact dispersal, speed, and limited variance []
  2. the product of Andrew Perpetua’s xBABIP system which inputs contact measures []

  • Harv

    If it’s an injury and of the you-won’t-do-more-damage-playing variety, then we’re caught in the Tito Loyalty Vortex, where Kipnis will join Gomes. Please, not another lineup slot where rallies go to die.

    Speaking of players whose names begin YAN, why not shut Kip down for a while and bring up the Cuban hitting machine. He didn’t look at all scared in April.

    And speaking of Tito, time to be officially worried when he’s missing a home game after an off day.

  • jpftribe

    Antonetti will step in at some point, as it appears he has with Francona’s health. Too smart of a baseball guy to ride both Kipnis and Gomes. They have decent options to replace Kip, not so much Gomes. If Kipnis is really hurt, then you have wonder what value he has and if he can pass a physical.

    I think Yandy is still working through launch angle issues in AAA, I would not expect to see him up. Shaffer can play third and has been hot, and you can always go with Gonzalez to keep Jose at 3rd for a short period. Personally, I think Lindor/Ramirez would be one of the top 3 6-4 combo’s in baseball. To sacrifice that for Kipnis .220 bat is just nuts. And right now, Yan Gomes numbers would be a better choice for leadoff than Kipnis. That’s how bad of a decision it is to leave him No 1.

  • tsm

    The loss last night just seemed to hurt more than the others so far this season. A combination of wasting another great Kluber outing, SD making the most of very limited chances, our poor ss-2b defense, complete lack of any clutch hitting, and both the 8th and 9th ending with our bats on our shoulders. If it truly is an injury to Kipnis, then I agree that he should be shut down and someone who can hit and play better D replace him. Perhaps move Jose to 2nd and bring up Yandy or another guy, as suggested. Also Lindor keeps chasing many bad pitches down in the zone. He needs to take a page out of Brantley’s book (as do Kipnis, Chis and others ) and go with the pitch on the outside corner to the opposite field – especially down in the count.

  • scripty

    Kipnis hand speed is way down. He’s attempting to generate bat speed with other parts of his body and his swing is AFU as a result. He’s way ahead of more off speed pitches as a result and is unable to murder fastballs. He’s a mess and unless he finds the root of why his hands have slowed down to NY Met Robbie Alomar level, he ain’t gonna mash.

  • scripty

    BTW can we just get the elephant out of the room and discuss Indians sans Francona? Dude seems pretty sick. Bigtime tobacco user for 35-40 years of his life I hope he comes out okay.

  • scripty

    The overall effort was crap. They phoned that game in with no preparation and paid for it.

  • mgbode

    There are a ton of options for that 2B/3B combo and I’m not sure where I even land on it. I put a poll up here if you would like to vote:

    https://twitter.com/WFNYCLE/status/882656944540049408

  • mgbode

    ??

    Cahill is no slouch, they had RISP 10 different times. They just- AGAIN- failed to get a hit w/ RISP. I didn’t see a lack of effort or preparation. Just frustratingly bad results.

  • mgbode

    He is also a high sugar consumer and has some other unhealthy habits alongside his age being a bit up there now too. Hate to speculate on exactly what his current ailment since the team has given no indication. Could be anything.

    Definitely praying that he is OK regardless of what it means to the Indians.

  • CBiscuit

    “Hate to speculate”….wha??? But that’s all that goes on in the sports world!

    Look…let’s just assume it was caused by tobacco rolled in gum and while in the hospital, he probably got a staph infection…originating from Dan Gilbert. While Lebron sat and watched and did nothing.

    In all seriousness, what’s scary is that it seems cardio in nature…and an ongoing issue going back to last year. Not the kind of thing that is easy to work around and still continue to manage.

  • scripty

    You thought the guys went to the plate last night with a disciplined approach? Half the team should of hit against this guy when he was on the A’s, no? A heap of lousy at bats. Kipnis, Gomes, Lonnie had a few, EE had one I remember, Lindor has no approach now.

    I remember Cahill torching a few guys with an unfair slider but that’s why we can’t be giving away outs.

    We’re 80 games in. These guys averages are mediocre because they’ve had a mediocre approach with diminishing mechanics outside a handful of players. There a lot of Cahills in MLB, we needed 2 freaking runs to win that game.

    I’d love somebody to gun Kipnis bat speed on a whiff.

  • Chris

    I would have said Yandy, but I just did a quick stat check on him and yikes.

    Average is good, but he only has 10 xbh all year out of 50 hits (Kipnis is 23 out of 55). I thought Diaz was supposed to rake it in at the dish?

  • scripty

    I think we can discuss it and still hope he’s fine regardless. You take a top mgr off the squad – that’s a huge loss and recent signs are that is somewhat possible. I don’t think we need rampant Dick Howser-ish forecasts on his medical condition but it seems like a legitimite issue for the Tribe if they lose Tito for an extended period.

  • mgbode

    Michael Martinez for fill-in manager!

  • jpftribe

    Yes, nice scouting performance from Cahill.

  • scripty

    who was the really old guy who got the Marlins that 2nd title. Give him a call and promise him unlimited Ensure.

  • CBiscuit

    No, I totally agree. It’s both very newsworthy/discussable and a big potential loss.

    I was just joking about Bode’s saying we don’t want to speculate about something we don’t know. Thought the caution and measure was hilarious. Wild speculation is all we do around here (see Cavs)!

  • CBiscuit

    Where’s Giambi when you need him?! We floated that turd on the roster for like three straight years waiting for this day

  • jpftribe

    If Kipnis is going to be out for a prolonged period, I’d move JRam to 2nd and Gonzo to 3rd and try that first. Urshela has a better glove at 3rd, but not that much better. I’d give Gonzo’s bat a shot before Ursh.

  • mgbode

    I am all for wild speculation- until it involves someone’s health.

  • mgbode

    Go to where the breeze feels the strongest. There you will find Giambi missing baseballs.

  • mgbode

    Kip & Lindor issues are far more pronounced than just last night. Chisenhall- and I love him- has major issues against Cahill-type pitchers.

    I’m not happy about the game nor that we were shutout. That shouldn’t have been the case. But noting we did have a ton of opportunities and failed at coming through in them.

  • mgbode

    Hard to get extra bases when EVERYTHING you hit is on the ground.

  • jpftribe

    Has anyone done any comparisons on 16 and 17 WBC participants performance?

  • mgbode

    There not being an obvious solution is part of the problem here, I guess.

  • jpftribe

    But at least potentially doable. The Gomes alternative is Kratz.

  • mgbode

    or Robo

  • mgbode

    Andrew Miller seems fine

    And, especially for position players, I don’t think it’d be wise to tie too much to WBC. Sample size is too small and what did they really do there that changes versus playing in ST if they didn’t get hurt?

  • jpftribe

    As does Berrios and pitching in general. Anecdotally, Machado and Lindor not so much.

  • jpftribe

    When they make the seams bigger, he’ll be a trend setter.

  • Chris

    He hasn’t met my (inexplicably) mediocre expectations either.

  • Chris

    Tell that to Billy Hamilton

  • paulbip

    I agree with the article and everything said on the board. This team is an early round loser unless things change. Get rid of Kipnis, Gomes (give him away), and Santana. Get rid of Shaw while you are at it. Sit Lindor down and tell him that this is a big boys game. Tell Tito (if he comes back) to use a pinch hitter now and then.
    How many rallies has Gomes blown up? Now his D sucks. He had that guy out by 15 feet last night and didn’t block the plate. He lucked out on the call.
    I consider this lineup as Gomes at 9 and Kipnes at 10 in the order.

  • Steve

    Counterpoint: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/this-years-indians-are-secretly-better-than-last-years/

    But, guys, if you could knock out a couple more hits with RISP, that would be cool.

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  • Brandon

    Kipnis has always been a streak hitter. He has zero plate discipline, so he’s just relied on those streaks. Since Teets seems to think he’s a top of the order hitter, and not a 6-7-8-9 type hitter, he’s just getting pwned by the full-arsenal of pitches. And why not? He could be the best 7th hitter of all time.

    He already killed a potential playoff run in 2015. Let’s just drop him in the lineup, and let actual hitters with skill and or patience take the 1-5 spots.

    We have too much talent in the family now to let our weirdo cousin hit first.

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