Cubs 2020 roster outlook: Why Jason Kipnis has struggled in recent years


Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is second baseman Jason Kipnis.

2019 recap

Kipnis joined the Cubs on a minor league deal this spring following nine seasons with the Indians. A career .261/.333/.417 hitter, the Northbrook native posted a .245/.304/.410 line in 121 games last season. His wRC+ (82) was well below his career average (103).

Kipnis’ tenure in Cleveland ended on a tough note, with the 32-year-old fracturing his right hand on Sept. 15 and missing the rest of the season. The Indians declined to pick up his $16.5 million 2020 option in November.

Expectations for this season’s role

When MLB was on track for a March 26 Opening Day, a David Bote-Kipnis platoon at second base made sense. Kipnis is a career .269/.347/.442 hitter with a 113 wRC+ versus righties, though his production has declined the past three seasons (.240/.313/.427, 93 wRC+).

Nico Hoerner is also in the second base mix but sending him to Triple-A to start the season would ensure he plays every day. It could be easier to find him at-bats, however, if MLB tightens its schedule post-hiatus.

Kipnis likely will be given a chance to start at second versus righties, even if Hoerner makes the roster. The veteran also offers another lefty bat off the bench.

2020 outlook

Everyone likes graphs, so allow me to present you with this:

What do we make of this? Hitting more fly balls has hurt Kipnis (typically a line drive hitter) at the plate. Since 2017, he's hit .236/.305/.403 with an 85 wRC+, posting below-average BABIPs — .256, .258 and .265. (From 2011-16, he posted BABIPs of .288 or better.) 

It's easier to find holes when you hit line drives or ground balls. Kipnis improved in the latter last season, but his fly ball rate was still about six points above the 2019 MLB average. He did improve his soft and hard contact rates from 2017 and '18, resulting in his expected batting average (.261) being much higher than his actual one.

Kipnis may not be an everyday player at this stage in his career, but by playing in favorable matchups, he can provide a boost to a weak position for the 2019 Cubs. 

The complete roster outlook series:

1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester 
19. Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success
20. How Alec Mills fits on Opening Day roster
21. Steven Souza Jr. could provide needed boost vs. lefties
22. How COVID-19 hiatus could impact Nico Hoerner's trajectory
23. How Adbert Alzolay can build off 2019 debut
24. Why catcher Josh Phegley could win final roster spot

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