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Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Jason Kipnis

Jason Kipnis on June 30, 2012Jason Kipnis is entering 2013 as a trendy pick thanks to the overall solid stat line he contributed in his 2012 breakout campaign. His 76 RBI placed him fifth among all 2Bs, and his 31 SB were topped at the position only by Jose Altuve. He finished the first half with All-Star caliber numbers: 11 HR, 53 RBI and a respectable .277 BA. But true to his status as a developing player, it was his second half that left a taint in most owners' mouths. A strained neck seemed to sap much of his power, as he went yard only three times to finish 2012 with 14 HR-– serviceable, but considering his first-half pace, mightily disappointing. August was extremely difficult for Kipnis and his owners: in 24 games, he only had 2 HR while hitting just .180. Fortunately, he rebounded with a .274 BA in September, but the power never returned as he only mustered a single bomb that month.

Look, players get injured and it’s understandable that their stats trail off. There’s a certain consolation in attributing his second-half struggles to injury, rather than to opposing pitchers finding and exploiting some weakness(es) like a hole in his swing.

Nevertheless, Kipnis provided one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season with his 31 SB. His previous professional best was 17 SB in 2011 between AAA and the Indians. So his 2013 total represents nearly a 100% increase-- quite a substantial jump. And without an established track record, it’s silly to assume that he’ll follow-up with another 30+ SB campaign; a more conservative projection of 20 SB for 2013 is probably more accurate.

Another outlier statistic was Kipnis's 76 RBI. Now, RBI are highly situational, and to a certain degree, it's a statistic in which luck is a significant factor. In this vein, Kipnis's 2012 numbers were aided by very high RBI conversion rates--– which is to say, he knocked in runners from second and third base at a rate about 15% higher than league average. His 68% conversion rate for plating runners from third with less than two out was a full 13% higher than AL MVP Miguel Cabrera's, and 14% higher than Josh Hamilton's.

One glaring weakness for Kipnis, which sort of sounds like a broken record when talking about young left-handed hitters, is his inability to hit LHP. Big surprise, right? Most young lefties stink it up against southpaw pitching, and Kipnis is no exception, hitting only .215 against LHP in 2012. You know White Sox’s ace Chris Sale is just going to tear him up.

Enough with this fancy talk. The big picture here is that despite some hiccups, Jason Kipnis performed extraordinarily well in some key situations. He is a talented young player, with a lot of upside, but he will likely be challenged to match his 2012 performance. You should realistically expect him to fall back slightly to the 70-RBI range. The Indians do have an improved lineup: with a healthy Carlos Santana, and newly-acquired Michael Bourn up at the top, Kipnis may well again have ample RBI and run-scoring opportunities. Let’s see if he can make his own luck in 2013 at the same rate he did in 2012!
Net Net:

While this may sound pessimistic about Jason Kipnis, we’re just trying to provide a bit of perspective. 2012 was a great breakout year for him, and he's a young talented player with a lot of upside. But it’s too soon to expect that he can easily repeat those 2012 numbers. Most drafts have Kipnis’s ADP somewhere in the fifth round, before more proven players like Ben Zobrist and Brandon Phillips. Those are established veterans on solid teams who feel like safer picks to us at RotoBaller. The fifth round is a little too much of an investment for Kipnis, and taking him there, you’ll be requiring a lot of return. In other words, it's a risky bet to make. Better to wait to see if he drops to round six or seven. Second base is a shallow position, but you can still snag guys like Danny Espinosa and Ricki Weeks in the tenth or eleventh round to provide a lot of the value you'd be expecting from Kipnis, but at a much more reasonable price tag.

RotoBaller's full second base rankings have also been released... be sure to check it out for more in-depth fantasy baseball analysis on 2B!