Expected Improvements: Jason Kipnis & Lonnie Chisenhall

Often forgot about when discussing off-season moves are the advancements made by the players already on the roster. While signing or trading for new players lead to more direct and obvious improvements, usually, the most important changes come from within. Even in 2013, after the busiest off-season in a long time, possibly ever, the bulk of the Indians offense was came from players already in the system, like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley.

This particular article will be about what the Indians should expect from their second and third basemen in the upcoming season. Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis have a lot in common as they came through the minor league system together with Chisenhall being the first round pick in 2008 and Kipnis the second pick in 2009. While it always seemed that Chisenhall, the earlier draft pick, would make a splash in the big leagues first, it was Kipnis who not only impressed first, but became a starter and an All-Star first.

We will start with Chisenhall, who is hoping to be a starter for the entire season for the first time in his career. To figure out what he should be expected to do during 2014, we will take advantage of the Similarity Scores on Baseball-Reference.com. Not only does baseball-reference have almost every conceivable stat for every player ever, they have put them together to find out which players have been similar during a certain part of their career. Just to get a basic idea of what these players will do next season, we will take the average of the five most similar players in their next season, in Chisenhall’s case, their age 25 season.

The five players compared to Chisenhall are Shane Andrews, Nick Esasky, Steve Buechele, Rick Schu and Wally Post. While this isn’t a group of super-stars, that makes sense as Chisenhall isn’t either. Below are the stats of Chisenhall’s first three seasons and his expected line for 2014. Do not take these numbers too seriously:

2011 22 CLE AL 66 212 27 54 13 0 7 22 1 0 8 49 .255 .284 .415 .699
2012 23 CLE AL 43 142 16 38 6 1 5 16 2 1 8 27 .268 .311 .430 .741
2013 24 CLE AL 94 289 30 65 17 0 11 36 1 0 16 56 .225 .270 .398 .668
Top 5 Average 25 105 327.4 51.2 87.8 16.6 1.2 17 51.4 2.4 2.4 30.4 65.2 .268 .330 .482 .812

In the past we have used weighted averages to predict future seasons, but this is a much better way to represent the fact that players have the ability to improve. Remember that the five players averaged are the closest analogs to Chisenhall through this point in their careers. The numbers that appear are certainly exciting. If Chisenhall could really become a 17 home run, 51 RBI player, it would end all the discussion of being replaced by Mike Aviles. Of course, these numbers also temper thoughts of Chisenhall turning into great power hitter or high average hitter during his career. While these numbers don’t really mean anything, they look like a great representation of Chisenhall’s upper end in 2014.

Chisenhall has been a disappointment overall, but everyone needs to remember that he is just 25 years old and going into his fourth professional season. While he may never be an All-Star, there is no reason he couldn’t be a serviceable third baseman for a long time and if he actually produces the numbers listed, he could be an above average third baseman compared to the others in Indians history.

The list of players that Kipnis compares to is much more favorable (not surprisingly) than Chisenhall’s. In his top ten are included All-Stars Robby Thompson, Brandon Phillips and Michael Young. The players actually used for comparison will be Bret Boone, Orlando Hudson, Neil Walker, Ronnie Belliard and Jeff Kent.

2011 24 CLE AL 36 136 24 37 9 1 7 19 5 0 11 34 .272 .333 .507 .841
2012 25 CLE AL 152 591 86 152 22 4 14 76 31 7 67 109 .257 .335 .379 .714
2013 26 CLE AL 149 564 86 160 36 4 17 84 30 7 76 143 .284 .366 .452 .818
Top 5 Average 27 127.0 333.0 55.0 111.6 21.0 3.0 12.2 55.2 3.2 2.2 31.6 77.0 .335 .298 .530 .828

These numbers aren’t very flattering, but stem from the fact that four of the top five similar players had big drop offs in their age 27 season. Only the O-Dogg was able to maintain his early successes. Indians fans know all about two of those drop offs as Ronnie Belliard and Jeff Kent were both about to come to Cleveland at this time in their careers. The good news is that every player compared returned to their normal ability level by the time they turned 29 with three becoming All-Stars and one becoming an MVP candidate. The other, of course, is Walker who is yet to play his year 28 season.

The bad news is, even if Kipnis doesn’t fall back a little in 2014, he is due an off year at some point. No player starts as good as young as Kipnis has and keeps it up forever. The good news is that most of the fall-off is due to an expected decrease in playing time (the rate stats are similar) and if he can stay healthy, there is no reason he can’t repeat his 2013 success. Even better, even with an expected drop in playing time, he is still expected to have a pretty good season. In the end, his top five similar players being all top level second basemen is a very good sign and he may even be better than all of them (but probably not Phillips or Young).

The Indians infield is likely to be a major part of their offense in 2014 and Kipnis and Chisenhall will be huge parts of it. If anything should be discovered by the numbers above, it is that nobody should panic if either player struggles a little. Just considering random chance, Chisenhall is due for some improvements while Kipnis may regress some. Of course, in the end, those numbers are really meaningless as anything can happen in the course of a baseball season.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB