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ASU Baseball: Breaking Down Jason Kipnis

Free agency is a special time for any player. For the first time in their career, they have the opportunity to choose where they want to play. Former Sun Devil Jason Kipnis, at age 33, finally reached that mark after a six-year extension with the Cleveland Indians ending with a contract buyout after the 2019 season. Kipnis was free to play anywhere he wanted to, after spending his entire professional career in Cleveland. When given the opportunity, the Illinois kid went home and spent 2020 with the Chicago Cubs.

Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein did not want to rush rookie Nico Hoerner into a full-time role. Enter Kipnis, who signed the week before team workouts began. There was already some history for the second baseman, and in Chicago, he was the first Illinois-born player to hit a World Series home run at Wrigley Field; it was not for the Cubs, however. The taste of 2016 clearly was not too sour.

As for the former Devil’s offensive production since 2016, well, that has not been sweet, at least. From his first full season in 2012 through 2016, Kipnis owned an OPS of .761 with two All-Star appearances. From 2017-2019 the OPS dropped to .708, and his wRC+ dipped well below the league average mark of 100. The second baseman’s defense never waivered throughout his career.

Kipnis' overall 2020 numbers were certainly affected by playing in a shortened season. In 44 games, the former devil hit .237/.341/.404 with a wRC+ of 102. A 30% strikeout rate was a little alarming, but that may also more so contribute to the season being shorter and because of where he improved in his game elsewhere. Two big stand-out stats, however, could carry nicely into next season. First, he is swinging the bat less, like a lot less, an overall drop of 6.5% less. Second, he is hitting the ball in the air a lot more, 7.4% more. Ah yes, let the boomers know another player has fallen victim to the “Launch Angle Era.” Fly balls are king, and he seems to be doing that more than he used to, which could help him play longer.

Looking into the future where Kipnis played and in what capacity is uncertain. Understand when heading into your age 34 season, the opportunity to start everyday dwindles significantly. Utility veterans do play a very important role in the game; look no further than 2020 teammate Daniel Descalso who has played the role of “veteran with lengthy at-bats and plays all around the field” for years now.

The Cubs went from lovable losers to intelligent innovators to kinda expectable meh’s in the 2010s and are still riding out the meh part, always competing but never really succeeding. There are plenty of teams that could use a lefty veteran on the bench or play in a platoon type role, like the Cubs who are expected to decline Descalso's option.

No matter what the future holds, Kipnis in 2020 represents the maroon and gold and remains a staple in what to expect from anyone who plays in Tempe.