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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jason Kipnis: Should I be concerned?

I drafted Jason Kipnis in both of my expert leagues so far and I have him in my 20-team keeper league as well.  Last year he only hit .257 with just 14 home runs, though he did swipe 31 bags.

The problem with that stat line is that he never came close to that number of steals in any previous season and it inflates his price on draft day.  A lot.  Okay, so color me concerned.

Here we have a second baseman who hits for a low average and a moderate amount of power who produced one valuable number last year.  And that number, the steals, does not appear to be repeatable based on track record.  Concerned?  Nervous?  In a word - Idunno.

I do know this - second base is a very shallow position and Kipnis was a highly regarded prospect who set the world on fire in the first half last year.  Did he hit a rookie wall?  Will he be better prepared this year?  Maybe, but I'd really like to dig deeper than that if it's okay with you.

Let's delve into each statistic and see what we can project for a 26-year-old in his second full season:

Batting Average - Last year he hit .257 with a .291 BABIP.  The previous year it was .272 and .313 in 150 PA's in the bigs and something similar in 400 minor league PA's.  In 2010 he hit over .300 with a BABIP in the .360 range.  So, I'm pretty comfortable with a number closer to his .272 in 2011 if not a touch higher.

Home Runs - Just 14 last year with an ISO of only .122.  In 2011 he had a higher K% but also an ISO over .200 in split time between the minors and majors.  That led to 19 dingers.  In 2010 over three minor league stops, the ISO and K% were a little lower but he still produced 19 home runs.  It's also interesting to note that Kipnis only produced 25 doubles last year and just 22 in 2011, but he amassed 43 in 2010.  It would seem that Kipnis will strike out more this year and generate more power, too.  It's possible that he started playing it safe in his first full year in the majors which led to more groundouts and popups and fewer home runs and base hits.  I believe we'll see more line drives in 2013.

Stolen Bases - The thing that jumps out here is his success rate. In 2010 he had 11 SB's and was caught four times.  In 2011 it was 17 bags and just one time caught stealing.  So, in 2012 they gave him the green light and he was successful 31 times and caught seven times.  That 81.6% success rate is right inbetween the previous two years, so there is reason to think it will continue.  He's also still very young so the speed shouldn't be diminishing yet.  It's crazy to say that he could continue with the stolen bases when last year's number was more than 110% of the previous two years combined, but the success rate tells me it could.  If the coaches in Cleveland trust him to run, I believe he'll run.

If his batting average ticks back up to the .272 range and he continues to steal bases, the runs and RBI will follow.  This is a lineup that added some premium talent in the off-season (Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher) to add to Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Asdrubal Cabrera.  It should be a pretty solid lineup that scores in bunches.

One other note about park factor.  We've been talking about it a lot around here recently.  Progressive Field is a pitchers park (suppresses runs by 7%) primarily because it is murder on right-handed power.  The park also suppresses right handed batting average a bit, but is basically neutral for left-handed average.  The hidden gem here is that Progressive Field actually improves left-handed power by 20%.  Kipnis is a left-handed batter, so the park factor here is actually a positive one for him even though it is a pitchers park overall.

So, my forecast for Kipnis is:  .272, 18 HR, 88 R, 83 RBI, and 27 SB.  If that happens, his value will exceed his draft day cost.

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