Jason Kipnis is the least lucky* hitter in baseball

Quality of contact not dictating success for former All-Star

Alex Hooper
June 06, 2018 - 12:24 pm
Jun 2, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) hits a single in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

© Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Jason Kipnis has a track record of success, though it would be tough to discern that from his 2018 stat line to date.

The calls for Kipnis’ benching began long ago on Twitter, before enough of a sample size was established to worry greatly over his struggles. Entering Wednesday, June 6th, Kipnis is slashing .208/.286/.310 and producing at a rate 37% beneath the average hitter.

It would seem that a two-time all-star would need some pretty bad luck to produce at such a low rate, and luckily we have the ability to measure such things in 2018.

It turns out that Kipnis is the most unlucky* hitter in baseball, among those with 250 plate appearances, which may give more credence to Terry Francona’s loyalty to his veterans than his veteran second baseman’s luck.

That luck indicator (wOBA – xwOBA) sees a -0.079 difference between Kipnis’ weighted on-base average and his expected-weighted on base average. That is 43rd among 43 qualified hitters, putting him just below Bryce Harper and Joey Votto.

The difference between Kipnis and the rest of that field is not just that his actual .265 wOBA is .012 beneath the next worst hitter, but his xwOBA actualized (.344) would only place him just about mid-table on that list (21st of 43). That is to say that while Kipnis has been terribly unlucky, he would not necessarily be great if for the absence of luck either way.

It is the degree of negative luck, a full 3.6 standard deviations from those with as many plate appearances, that makes Kipnis deserving of remaining in the lineup. That is aside from the $13.5 million contract and aforementioned track record that is aiding that notion.

Out of 29 batted ball events for Kipnis considered “solid contact” by StatCast, just 12 have resulted in base hits. Of the 123 major leaguers with 20+ such batted ball events, Kipnis ranks 112th, with a .979 xwOBA, but just .587 actual wOBA.

BaseballSavant.com

Again to the suggestion that Kipnis has been unlucky but not necessarily good, Kipnis’s xwOBA is 115th of those 123 hitters with 20 instances of good contact, his actual results are 121st, ahead of just Oakland’s Marcus Semien and old friend Jay Bruce.

For those pining for the insertion of Erik Gonzalez into the lineup in Kipnis’s stead, consider that the former’s xwOBA is actually lower (.335) than that of Kipnis. Gonzalez is outperforming his xwOBA (read: is luckier) better than all but seven hitters with 40 plate appearances at .059.

Regression towards the mean is almost a certainty for Kipnis, considering his wOBA on good contact is well below Victor Martinez’s final .682 mark from 2017, dead last. On the other hand Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera finished 2017 with a -0.073 luck factor, not far off from Kipnis’s current mark, and that came in more than 400 plate appearances.