Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been on the attack in the last week or so, discussing the trials and tribulations of the Indians’ 2012 season. On August 20, after the Tribe held a players-only meeting, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com asked what the Tribe could do to stop their slide. Kipnis replied:
Play better baseball. All aspects of the game. We’ve got to play better baseball. Offense, defense, pitching, everything. We’ve got to play better. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s not a lack of concentration. The team’s out there trying, fighting. Things are just not falling in place right now.
Kipnis voicing his frustration a week later, when he spent some time after Tuesday’s 7-0 loss to the Oakland A’s venting to Bastian and other Tribe reporters:
We’re playing embarrassing baseball. It’s just bad. Offense, defense, pitching, everything. It’s just not the way we’re used to doing it. (…)
We’ve just got to play with a little bit more urgency than we are. We should be able to play spoiler right now and have some fun and be a little bit more relaxed. I don’t know what’s holding the guys back. We should be playing with a little bit more pep in our step, because we’ve got nothing to lose right now.
We might as well go out there and have fun. If we’re already going to lose every game, we might as well have a good attitude.
The Indians are now 11-34 since the All-Star break. Since losing control of first place in the AL Central on June 24, the Cleveland is 18-41. Needless to say, they’ve fallen apart. Kipnis’ words were heartbreaking and honest, for himself and Cleveland fans. For a young player, experiencing this type of losing can be gut-wrenching. While he has a point about looking inside of themselves for the effort and abilities that each player has, should he have been the one to speak up?
Heading into action on Wednesday night, Kipnis was hitting .204/.284/.277 with seven doubles, one home run and 13 RBI in 163 second half at-bats. Those numbers are a far cry from his All-Star worthy first half, when he exploded for a .277/.345/.419 with eight doubles, three triples, 11 home runs and 49 RBI in 370 at-bats.
While Kipnis has had his ups and downs this season, the organization and fans need to remember that he is just 25 years old. He may not hit left-handed pitching well (.212/.289/.291 in 165 at-bats), but he is still learning. Drafted out of Arizona State University in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft, Kipnis flew through the system, totalling just 254 games played and 974 minor league at-bats before being summoned to Cleveland.
Kipnis will not be arbitration-eligible until 2015 and he will not reach free agency until 2018. While the Indians have several solid middle infield prospects, Kipnis could move to an outfield corner and still be a solid producer, but his .991 fielding percentage and positive rankings from three of the four major defensive runs estimators show that he could be a long-term solution in the Indians lineup and future.
Why does all of this matter? Because Jason Kipnis has just proven himself as the leader of the Cleveland Indians. He didn’t attack the fans like Chris Perez. He didn’t blame ownership for the missing pieces like Manny Acta. Like a true leader, Kipnis took the blame and he shared the blame. With empty seats and annoyed fans hovering over Progressive Field, this is the type of player that a working-class filled city can get behind.
Behind all of the statistics that Kipnis wasn’t supposed to be capable of putting up—specifically, the impressive stolen base totals—lies a man who is also the leader that no one expected him to be. Just a year into his young career, Jason Kipnis has taken the offensive. He can now be the leader of his team and chief for his fellow Tribe.