Former Indians infielder Jason Kipnis is off the market, as he is close to agreeing to a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. Will he bring a spark to the North Side? Let’s take a look at the 32-year old infielder.
Jason Kipnis Goes to Chicago
Throughout his whole pro career, all Kipnis has known is the Indians. A second-round pick by Cleveland in 2009, Kipnis made his MLB debut with the Indians in 2011 and had been with them ever since. A former two-time All-Star, Kipnis played a pivotal role for the Indians in 2016, a year where they came just one win shy of winning their first World Series since 1948. That season, Kipnis hit a career high in home runs (23), and drove in 82 runs and recorded a .811 OPS.
After that season, things went south for the Illinois native. Kipnis had three straight sub-.720 OPS seasons in Cleveland after 2016. On top of that decrease, Kipnis’ numbers against fastballs, pitches he normally did quite well against, went down as well. In 2016, Kipnis batted .305 and slugged .537 off of fastballs. In addition, 17 of his 23 home runs were off of fastballs. Each of the following two seasons after 2016, Kipnis batted just .259 off of fastballs. To make matters worse, Kipnis was also getting under on pitches more frequently. According to Baseball Savant, Kipnis’ Under% in 2016 was 24.8%, but that number jumped up to 32.7% in 2017 and 33.6% in 2018.
Last season, Kipnis’ numbers jumped up slightly, as his .715 OPS in 2019 was his highest since 2016. On top of that, his average exit velocity (86.7-18th Percentile according to Baseball Savant) was also his highest since 2016. And against fastballs, Kipnis’ batting average also went up slightly, as he batted .271 off of those pitches in 2019.
Kipnis now heads to Chicago, as he’s close to agreeing to a one-year deal, $1M contract with incentives. A Illinois native who grew up the suburbs of Chicago, Kipnis now goes home to play for a team he knows quite well. And this move makes a lot of sense for the Cubs. The 32-year old has proved in the past that he can hit 20 home runs when healthy, while providing a stable presence at second base. And on a low-risk deal, Theo Epstein and the Cubs can’t go wrong here, as they add depth to a position that was a bit of a weakness last season.
Cubs Need Production at Second Base
The Cubs didn’t have much consistency at the second base position last season. According to Fangraphs, Cubs’ second baseman were 21st in the league in OPS (.684), 21st in slugging (.383), 22nd in wOBA (.292) and 21st in wRC+ (78). Those numbers were bad, and the stats look worse when you break them down by each player who played at second for the Cubs in 2019.
Daniel Descalso batted .173 across 82 games and had a OAA of -4 at the position last season. Ben Zobrist (.671 OPS in 2019) spent most of the season on the restricted list, and Addison Russell was suspended for the first parts of the season and only hit .239 when he returned. And after last season, Russell was cut by the Cubs. Third baseman David Bote, did however, provide a spark for the Cubs when he was in the lineup, and did start 28 games at the position last season. If Kris Bryant is still with the Cubs (and he probably will be) come Opening Day, the natural third baseman and Kipnis may have to fight over who gets the bulk of the time at second.
And then there’s Nico Hoerner. A first-round pick by the Cubs in 2018, Hoerner became the first pick from the 2018 Draft to make his MLB debut. Hoerner recorded a slash line of .284/.344/.399 slash line across 20 games in 2019, while smacking three home runs and driving in 22 runs. The speedy infielder has good hitting ability, but average pop at best, but he could be ready for a full-time role come 2020. If he is, Hoerner could also figure into the conversation at second base in 2020.
With Bote, Kipnis and Hoerner, the Cubs’ depth at second certainly looks a lot better than last season, as they look to make the postseason after missing out in 2019.
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