Walking to work, across streets with nary a flake of snow, I scoffed at the “Storm of the Century” headlines flashed in my direction, and in order to escape the cold which bit my nose, I began to dream of spring. Of course, I could reminisce about the crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut grass or the nervousness that exists before every season. All of these things would make for a delightful escape. Spring training offers a romance which is constantly re-awakened, a hope renewed regardless of whether this hope is grounded in reality. However, in 2015, if you are an Indians fan, that hope may be grounded. In almost every direction, there are signs of optimism, glimmers of possibilities. When attempting to analyze this team, you can merely throw a dart at the Indians roster to find young upside, rebound potential or just plain good. Last week I hit on Danny Salazar preparing to leap and Lonnie Chisenhall’s hidden value. Today, I throw a dart at Jason Kipnis. Many are focused on the possibility of a rebound from Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, but the biggest net value could be derived from Kipnis leaping back into the club of elite second baseman. In 2013, Jason Kipnis was a top five second baseman. Offensively, only Robinson Cano of $240 million and Matt Carpenter were better offensively. 2013 represented the second consecutive 3+ WAR season, and at 26, Kipnis looked poised to make the leap to the elite of his generation. What’s more, Kipnis was the definitive blue-collar player, obsessively competitive to the point that when people question his drive, it appears to cause him emotional pain. What Kipnis offers is a delightful marriage of skill and obsessive competitiveness, drive that would make you want him in your foxhole. One of the ways in which I like to consider how I value a player is to talk with fans of opposing teams about the Indians. I am friends with a few Tigers fans, and there are three players they really tend to hate. Michael Brantley, the MVP candidate; Yan Gomes, who they think is a stud and smug as hell; and lastly Kipnis because he is a grinder who just gets it done. I usually make statistical arguments for player rebound, and there is certainly room for it. I wont fret on such concerns though as I believe there are qualitative arguments which will gladly suffice. I will base my rebound expectations on the following reasons: health, physical build and releasing pressure. Alright, so I am relying on a large collection of cliches and things which cannot be enumerated. Health: It would be deceptive to deny that each of these categories has a certain level of intersection. Kipnis was challenged to stay on the field and only played in 129 games. One hundred and twenty-nine games may have been fairly impressive considering the constant lingering pain and health issues, which were unshakable. Kipnis experienced hamstring issues as well as other injuries, which sapped him of the physical strength needed to be his normally productive self. However, Kipnis may have struggled in terms of health because of his off-season program in 2014. Physical Build: While Kipnis has never been described as diminutive or lanky, he always maintained the spryness to appear an athletic specimen. In 2014, Kipnis decided to add weight in an attempt to add power. It’s unknown if this adversely affected his production or added a higher risk of injury, but it certainly didn’t seem to have helped. The Indians and Kipnis have made the consensual decision (According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer) to attempt to slim down the second baseman. Whether this is being done to quicken him or attempt to protect his body, it seems like the right decision. Releasing Pressure: I will admit that one of the most tiring cliches in all of sports is when a high priced athlete presses to earn their newly inked contract. In April, the Indians and Kipnis agreed to a six-year extension worth $52.5 million. The reason for which this is applicable to Kipnis is because of the type of person he is and the type of competitor he is. When watching Kipnis after a loss or during a slump, you got the feeling that someone is slowly and repeatedly killing his dog in front of his eyes. Winning and losing- – results — are essential to him. Kipnis plays as hard as anyone in baseball. This makes it easy to see that added pressure could push Kipnis over the edge from productive, fun loving competitor to the inescapable fear of disappointment. A weight which could affect Jason’s ability to prepare mentally and disrupt the clarity necessary to be productive offensively. Is it possible that we have seen Kipnis’ best season? Possibly, but I know Jason will be better in 2015 and it isn’t because of anything I can count or visualize on a scatter plot. It is because of who he is. Kipnis is a grinder, a competitor and a winner.
Published by Michael Hattery
Currently an Attorney. I have been fortunate enough to be published at Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, The Athletic Cleveland, WaitingForNextYear.com and Marquette Sports Law Review. Follow @snarkyhatman View all posts by Michael Hattery