Earlier this week, Buster Olney tweeted that the Indians might be interested in attaching Jason Kipnis to any deal involving a starting pitcher as a way to get out from under his contract. Some metrics say Kipnis has been comfortably below average at the plate the last two seasons, but that doesn’t preclude him from being a contributor to this Yankee team. There’s absolutely no doubt both Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber make the Yankees better on the field, even if Bauer is completely insufferable off it. If the Yankees are as interested in adding starting pitching this offseason as they claim, then bringing on Kipnis to land such a pitcher is a no-brainer.
Kipnis is owed $14.6 million dollars in 2019, which would make him an expensive bench piece, but it wouldn’t hurt the luxury tax nearly as bad. Back in 2014, Kipnis signed a six-year, $52 million dollar extension with Cleveland, making the AAV and yearly luxury tax hit just $8.75 million. Kipnis also has a club option for 2020 that carries a $2.5 million dollar buyout. All in all, the Yankees would pay him about $17 million for 2019, a definite overpay for what Kipnis gives you now. Still, his addition would mean the Yankees added a top-of-the-rotation arm too, which makes it a lot more palatable.
The reason his contract would be an overpay is because by several metrics, Kipnis has been terrible at the plate the last two seasons. Whether you’re a FanGraphs or Baseball Reference person, his 2018 stat line looks pretty ugly. Even for second basemen, he was comfortably below average, posting 89 wRC+ and an 89 OPS+, but a deeper dive into the numbers reveals that Kipnis might not be done quite yet. If we take Baseball Prospectus’s new statistic, DRC+, into account, it paints a slightly different picture.
In short, DRC+ is very similar to OPS+ and wRC+, but the primary difference is that DRC+ factors in a player’s expected performance rather than just the outcome of their play. It’s a lot harder to hit against the Astros pitching staff than against the Orioles, for example. DRC+ takes these and many other factors into account. Jason Kipnis was worth 105 DRC+ last season, meaning he was just slightly better than league average. By the logic of DRC+, Kipnis might not be an All-Star, but he still has value.
DRC+ isn’t the only statistic that holds up either. For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects Kipnis as a 2.0 WAR player next year and it’s easy to see why that might be the case. Kipnis doesn’t make as much contact as he used to, but he still works the zone quite well. He finished the season with a 10.0 BB% and an 18.6 K%, essentially the same rates for Brett Gardner’s career (10.3%, 18.4%).
Additionally, he hit .292/.367/.538 with runners in scoring position, and knocked 18 homers in the mostly hitter-friendly Progressive Field. A move to an even friendlier Yankee Stadium could help boost his power numbers just a bit. Here’s his 2018 spray chart overlaid onto Yankee Stadium:
Not too bad at all.
Defensively, Kipnis still plays a pretty serviceable second base. He’s not going to make too many out-of-zone plays, but he is still an average-to-above-average defender. Depending on which metric you look at, he graded as a better defender than Gleyber Torres last season. Kipnis doesn’t offer much more positional versatility. He played 25 games in center field for Cleveland the past two seasons, and while it was a complete disaster, Kipnis isn’t likely more than an emergency option out there.
All in all, adding Jason Kipnis to the Yankees wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. In fact, it just might be a pretty solid move. No, he’s not an All-Star anymore, and he’s not going to lead this team in any offensive category. However, he is a serviceable left-handed bat, who hits well with runners on and isn’t a total liability on defense. The Yankees have a hole in their infield and not only can Kipnis fill it, but his addition means there’s pitching help on the way too. Sign me up for that (unless it’s Bauer).