Going into the season, Jason Kipnis was expected to be one of the most important players in the Indians’ offense, a table setter, integral to the success of the entire lineup. He earned the job as the number three hitter after a fantastic 2012 season that saw him bat .257/.335/.379 in his first full Major League season. In general, it was expected that with another year of seasoning and playing in an improved offense those numbers would improve as he started to hit his expected potential. Instead, over the first week of the season he has struggled with a line of .138/.161/.251.
He has played in 7 of the Indians first 8 games and was batting third until the last game against New York, when he switched places with Asdrubal Cabrera and batted second. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where his problem is stemming from. He doesn’t seem to be swinging at bad pitches, but he has walked just once in the first week and struck out ten times. When he has made contact, he has shown some power. Three of his four hits are doubles, two of which were deep to the outfield and he has flown out near the wall on multiple occasions, robbed by some good defensive plays.
It’s possible his struggles have been mostly to do with bad luck like that. His BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) is a paltry .200 (compared to a career rate of .292), despite keeping a line drive rate around 20%, the same as his career before this year. He also has a perfect Ground Ball/Fly Ball ratio of 1.00, meaning he hasn’t changed his batting style thinking he was a power hitter and flying out to the outfield constantly. He also has grounded out into just a single double play, so he hasn’t been costing the Indians a lot of extra outs on his ground balls.
All things considered, there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about with Kipnis. His defense has been stellar to this point and he is one of the few infielders to avoid the error bug to this point. His all important line drive rate is staying consistent. He has likely just been unlucky, hitting the ball right at people, something that will certainly even out in time. His three doubles (second on the team) are proof that his power is still there. Kipnis did change his swing a little in the off-season, but he is still hitting the ball at the same ratios as past seasons. He will likely turn things around shortly as long as he continues to play the same way he is now. The worst thing he could do now is to press and allow his struggles with the bat to effect his glove, or to start swinging at pitches outside the strike zone because he isn’t hitting safely with what he’s swinging at right now. He is a young player and slumps are magnified at the beginning of the season. An athletic, scrappy player like Jason Kipnis will always end up succeeding in the long run.