Originally written on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 11/14/14

What a long, strange road it has been for Jason Kipnis this season. Well, perhaps just strange. Kipnis came into 2012 with a nice little bit of hype surrounding  him after a nice performance in his 2011 call-up. In 36 games in 2011 J-Kip hit .272, with seven dingers and 19 RBIs. His OPS in that stint was .841 and a highly impressive wOBA of .378. To expect this over a full season would be a silly assumption, but just for kicks and to lengthen this article, let’s say he did stretch these out over a full season, how would that have compared with your qualifying second basemen in 2011? Well, if he were to keep up his rates over a full season’s worth of ABs, he would hit roughly 30 home runs, with 82 RBIs and 103 runs scored. Again, there is most likely no way he would have kept up that pace and these estimates are based on crude simplistic equations created by yours truly, but the home runs and runs would be top three amongst second basemen. The RBIs? Those would have been fifth. Batting average? That would be good for 8th amongst second basemen last year and his OPS would have ranked third at the cornerstone. Okay, okay, like I said there is nothing that would make these specific projections a reality, but these still paved the way for some decent preseason projections for Kipnis and he started off the season looking like he would live up to, and exceed, said projections.

The general consensus amongst the fantasy pundits and prognosticators before this season started was that Kipnis would be around the twelfth best two bagger in the fantasy game in 2012. As the twelfth best option at second base, that makes him a starter in pretty much every fantasy league around. On average, he was the 15th second baseman taken in Yahoo! fantasy drafts and and 16th in ESPN drafts and for all intents and purposes was still considered to be something of a sleeper pick. Well, compared to his average draft position and what he has done this season, he has been a great value pick. At his position he ranks 6th in Yahoo! and 9th in ESPN, so stellar season right? Sure, very solid, but a lot of these high ranks are based on a good start to his season. Through May he had a slash of .280/.330/.450 with eight homers, 30 RBIs and 34 runs scored and eleven stolen basesm making him one of the highest ranked second basemen in the game. But even these numbers were a bit inflated by what he did in May. For that month he had a slash of .295/.351/.459 to go along with five home runs, 18 RBIs 21 runs and seven stolen bases. That big May had many, including myself, thinking Kipnis was the real deal and ready to jump up into the upper echelon of fantasy second baseman. But then June came and the downward trend began. The June slash line was .267/.322/.381. He still had three dingers, 16 RBIs and 13 runs, which is respectable, sure enough, but let us see what happened since then, shall we?

For July and August, Kipnis had a slash line of .215/.299/.305 which is just not very good at all. In fact those numbers are below replacement level. In July and August, Kipnis has hit two, count ‘em TWO, home runs! And the first of those two home runs came on August 20th! He went just shy of 50 games without knocking one out of the park. That is a drought of pretty serious proportions. So the big question is, what in the heck happened? Why did the numbers drop so danged much? Well let’s see if we can pinpoint the trouble and see if we can expect Jason to right the ship.

Well the first thing that jumps out at me is Kipnis’ strikeout rate. Through June, he had a K-rate of 15.9%. For the past two months that rate has been at 17.3%, which is only a slight uptick, but in August that K-rate was 23.8% which is a much larger rise and also not  a great number. Striking out almost every fourth time to the plate is bad, unless you are belting out around 30 home runs a season. But really that does not seem like it would be the biggest factor in his recent woes. It is not so much that he is putting the ball in play less, but rather what he is doing when he does put the ball in play.

Here is a break down, by month, of his ground ball rates:

Mar/Apr- 41.7%

May- 44.8%

June- 43.5%

July- 51.4%

August- 56.7%

Yikes! Close to 60% of balls in play being put on the ground in August, which could only possibly be considered a good strategy if you are, maybe, Billy Hamilton or the Flash. Kipnis has decent speed but he needs to get the ball up in the air to be successful. But what is causing the increase in ground balls and general lack of effectiveness on batted balls? Well it seems that pitchers know what to throw to get Kipnis to chase and make weak contact. He chasing the same amount of balls outside of the strike zone and making contact on those just as much, but it seems that Kipnis is having trouble with pitches that are moving. Considering he is making contact on balls outside of the zone almost 90% of the time, it would stand to reason that he his not making great contact most of the time, but rather flailing at pitches and putting them into play weakly.

According to picth values on his Fangraphs page, straight ball, he hit it very much. Sliders, curveballs, and split-fingered fastballs, bats are afraid. He has a negative value on all of these pitches this season. His linear weight against the slider is -.68, wihch is behind the average hitter and also behind 94 other major league hitters. Kipnis has struggled even more against curveballs. His weighted linear value against curves is -1.96 which is behind over one hundered other major league hitter this season. But these are not anything compared to how he handles the split-fingered fastball, where his linear weighted value per one hundred pitches his a paltry -3.23. Since he is already seeing 3% more curveballs and 1.2% more split-fingered fastballs than last season, it seems that if he does not change his approach and start hitting these pitches that are a movin’, he will not be able to turn things around. Maybe he should ask Jobu to come? You know, offer him cigar, rum. He will come. Or, you know, change his approach at the plate. Well, he may have done one or the other, since he is off to a decent enough start in September. For Kipnis’ and his fantasy owners’ sakes, let’s hope whatever he has done lately will continue to work and he can start climbing back towards the upper echelon of fantasy second basemen.

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