Tribe Notes

Jim Ingraham: Jason Kipnis finally hitting like Jason Kipnis ... and just in time for the postseason, too

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    The Indians' Jason Kipnis, right, celebrates with Rajai Davis after Kipnis hit a walk-off grand slam in the ninth inning against the White Sox on Sept. 19 at Progressive Field. Kipnis has been back to his old self at the plate recently after a season of struggling.



He’s now a square peg — but a classy one — in a round hole.

While many of us, especially this typist, were giving up on Jason Kipnis, he was reinventing himself.

For most of this season, the Indians’ third highest-paid player ($13.6 million) was their biggest disappointment. For a 2½-month Saharian stretch in the first half of the season — from April 2 to June 15 — he hit .190. Repeat: .190. For 2½ months! Sixty-two games. He had a .268 on-base percentage, a .293 slugging percentage, with more strikeouts (57) than hits (46).

He buried himself. It was a full-blown avalanche. A mine cave-in. The Kip-skid covered a whopping 242 at-bats, the equivalent of almost half a season of hang-with-’ems. His season was dead in the water. Flatlining.

His bat didn’t need pine tar. It needed jumper cables. Defibrillator paddles.

It’s not a given that a quality player can salvage a season by crawling from the wreckage of nearly half a year’s worth of batter’s box butchery. Look no further than Orioles Oh-fer Oligarch Chris Davis.

In 2013, Davis walloped a league-leading 53 home runs, drove in a league-leading 138 runs and finished third in the MVP voting. In 2015, he again led the league in taters, with 47.

This year he averaged a strikeout every other at-bat en route to what some analytics crunchers are calling the worst season by a hitter in major league history. He struck out 192 times, had just 79 hits, 51 of them singles and hit .168. That’s for the year. His WAR number, as computed by Baseball-Reference, is 2.8, which means he basically was not any better than you or I would have been, had we played first base all year for the Orioles.

Kipnis, a career .268 hitter coming into this season, didn’t get his batting average out of the 100s for good until June 18. He didn’t get his batting average over .230 until … well … now. He went into Saturday night’s game hitting .231, which was the highest his average has been since the second game of the season. His .708 OPS going into Saturday’s game was the highest it’s been since Opening Day.

In other words, Kipnis is finally getting started, just as the season is ending. The regular season, anyway. Actually, even that’s not quite accurate.

Kipnis began to quietly drag his season out of the gutter in the last two weeks of June. Nobody noticed, of course, because even then his batting average still languished somewhere south of Cape Horn.

But a 1-for-3 here, a 2-for-4 there and all of a not-so-suddenly he was lukewarm and getting warmer.

In his last 39 games — since Aug. 11 — Kipnis is hitting a Kipnisian .271, with an .845 OPS, seven home runs and 30 RBIs. The best of that run has occurred since he was moved from second base to center field.

In 131 games at second base he hit .228 with a .685 OPS. In his first 12 games in center field he hit .275 with a .908 OPS.

For all of this, Kipnis deserves tons of credit. Because of his brutal first half of the season, Kipnis, as Terry Francona has pointed out, knew he was going to have to live with the ugly numbers flashed on the scoreboard whenever he was hitting.

Kipnis lived with it. Owned it. Refused to let it defeat him. He never, as many do, made excuses or blamed all those days of hitting under .200 on all the things that are available for blame, should a player choose not to be accountable for his performance.

Kipnis continued to say all the right things. Continued to be a team player. Accepted his removal from second base and reassignment to the outfield with the same grace with which he accepted it last year. He put the team first, which tends to be a trademark for players who play for Francona.

Now it’s late September and Kipnis’ professionalism and perseverance has paid off. He’s once again a significant offensive contributor — and not a moment too soon, since the postseason beckons.

Through the weeks and months of nothingness it would have been easy for Kipnis to take the money and sulk. To his credit, he didn’t. He kept grinding, kept Kipnising, and he eventually came of out of it, which is great news for the Indians, because in some ways he’s a barometer for how they play.

Kipnis’ batting average in Indians wins is .307. In games they’ve lost he’s hit .129. He’s also, despite the brutal start, still one of the team’s best hitters with runners in scoring position (.299) and with two outs and runners in scoring position (.309).

He’s even making diving catches in the outfield.

Hats off to the square peg.

Contact Jim Ingraham at and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.

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