Indians Inbox: Will Kipnis rebound in 2015?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
Do you expect Jason Kipnis to improve next year over last season? Was there a health issue that affected his 2014 production?
-- Chris T., Roanoke, Va.
Kipnis is his toughest critic, even when he's hitting well for the Tribe. Given his personality and drive to be a leader for the Indians, I'd expect him to do everything in his power to, as manager Terry Francona has phrased it a few times, come back "with a vengeance" next season.
Yes, Kipnis had an injury issue that played a role in his disappointing '14 campaign. In late April, he injured his right oblique on a swing during a game against the Angels. The second baseman returned from the issue by late May, but his power went missing the rest of the way. Kipnis had a .394 slugging percentage (.748 OPS) before the injury and a .315 slugging (.615 OPS) after returning.
Kipnis has said multiple factors played into the offensive struggles. The second baseman did not want to blame the injury for the entire season sample. That said, Kipnis' injury hindered his ability to extend and attack outside pitches with the same force he did in 2013. That signature skill helped turn him into an All-Star in '13, and it was noticeably absent throughout '14.
According to Fangraphs.com, Kipnis' contact percentage increased with pitches both inside and outside the strike zone, but he swung more at pitches outside the zone in 2014 (25.8 percent) than in 2013 (21.6 percent). Kipnis also saw his .308 average (198 at-bats) against lefties in '13 nosedive to .208 (168 at-bats) this past season. He was also behind in the count more, as his first-pitch strike percentage climbed to 59.8 percent in '14 from 53.3 percent in '13.
Against lefties, Kipnis' batted balls resulted in 17.8 percent line drives and 33.3 percent fly balls in 2014, compared to 24 percent line drives and 28.8 percent fly balls in '13. According to brooksbaseball.net, Kipnis hit a combined .160 against sliders and curveballs from lefties in 2014, compared to .226 in '14. Kipnis also saw his production against sinkers from lefties drop significantly in 2014 (.237 average) from '13 (.367 average).
The overall result was a 2014 slash line of .240/.310/.330 in 500 at-bats, falling well below the All-Star standard he set in '13 (.284/.366/.452 in 564 at-bats). The hope would be that a full offseason for rest and training will put Kipnis in a position to improve his production against lefties in 2015. If he can return to his previous style of attacking outside pitches with authority, Kipnis could enjoy a solid comeback campaign.
Do you see the Indians possibly trading Kipnis? Kipnis has been viewed by many as overachieving in 2011-13 and he's been injury prone and faded in the second half each season. If Kipnis has a good May and June, as he usually has, might the Indians trade him after the All-Star break?
-- Ray M., Cleveland
If the Indians are in contention next season, as I'd expect them to be in the American League Central, I find it hard to believe that Kipnis would be dealt. If the offense is clicking, Kipnis returning to form will likely have played a role for the club. If Kipnis has a strong first half, I think Cleveland will be pleased to have its All-Star-caliber second baseman back in the fold. The Indians signed him to a long-term deal to be a key part of the core and I don't see him going anywhere in 2015.
Who do you think will fill out the infield on Opening Day? Obviously, Carlos Santana makes more sense at first base than Nick Swisher. But, there have also been a lot of rumors about who will be at third base and whether Jose Ramirez will start at short or not.
-- Kevin T., Charlotte, N.C.
As we sit here today, I'd definitely pencil in Santana as the Tribe's primary first baseman. He proved to be more than adequate at the position in the second half, helping shore up the team's overall defense down the stretch. Kipnis is in the plans for second and Ramirez projects to be the starting shortstop. Right now, Lonnie Chisenhall is in line to start at third base, giving him a chance to build on his promising 2014 season. As for Swisher, I'd view him as a designated hitter until we get a look at him during Spring Training. First base and right field could be part-time options, if he looks like he's nearing full strength after his two knee surgeries.
Is the Santana-at-third-base experiment over for good? Or, do you expect the Indians to try toying with it a little more in the spring?
-- Daniel Z., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
I don't see Santana trying his hand at third base again this spring. I think he's found a home at first base. What I think will be more interesting to see is whether he takes any reps with the catchers during Spring Training. With the emergence of Roberto Perez as Cleveland's backup catcher, and Yan Gomes entrenched as the starter, Santana's days behind the plate could be over.
I'm tired of reading all the Cleveland writers dismissing Chisenhall at third base and touting Giovanny Urshela as a savior at the position. Lonnie can hit and his defense improved in the second half. I bet Chisenhall's trade value is high, so will he be traded?
-- Rich H., Charlottesville, Va.
Cleveland's defense was a major issue last season and Urshela is viewed as an above-average defender. Given his emerging offense, it makes sense to tout Urshela as a possible option at the hot corner down the road. That said, he's now rehabbing from a knee injury sustained in winter ball. Chisenhall had a tremendous season, but the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of his year (.915 OPS in the first half and .591 OPS in the second), and his issues in the field (minus-14 defensive runs saved), make third base a position to potentially upgrade this offseason. Chisenhall is young and still has solid upside, so I could definitely see the Indians exploring what kind of interest might exist from other clubs.
Justin Masterson did a great job of closing down the stretch for the Indians in 2013. What are your thoughts on the Indians signing him to be the closer this year? It would help him get his feet back on the ground after a subpar 2014. Cody Allen could then go back to setup man.
-- Bruce S., Millersburg, Ohio
Masterson is generating enough interest on the free-agent market to pursue a starting job. It's improbable that he winds up back with the Indians in 2015, and there's no way he'll be back as a reliever. Allen earned the closing role and that job is his for the foreseeable future.
I had a dream that the Tribe traded Swisher to the Cubs for Edwin Jackson, moved Kipnis to right field, had Francisco Lindor at short, Ramirez at second, Urshela at third, and signed Nelson Cruz to a three-year deal at designated hitter. This gives Cleveland depth in the rotation, fixes the defense, and gives us the bat we really need. Am I dreaming?
-- Dave N., Toledo, Ohio
Dave! Wake up. Wake up!
In closing ...
Has a date been set for your bobblehead giveaway?
-- Tony I., Decatur, Ind.
Not yet. They're still working on developing a prototype that shakes its head back and forth with its head in its hands, showing what I look like when a ninth-inning rally erases the great game story that I had just finished.