Cleveland (92.3 the Fan) – It would seem, barring a setback, that Jason Kipnis will be back with the Indians at some point this weekend. With Kipnis back in the lineup, Terry Francona will have to find a spot to put him.
The assumption is that 3B Yandy Diaz will be optioned to Columbus, and Jose Ramirez will re-assume his post at the hot corner, and Kipnis will reclaim his spot at second.
Some have raised concern in removing Diaz from the lineup, proposing to move Kipnis back into the outfield, where he played for Arizona State, so the rookie can stay at short. That move makes sense for that reason and for the fact that Ramirez is capable of gold-glove level defense up the middle.
It already seemed like a stretch for Diaz to remain with the team, but having to displace your all-star second baseman to make room for a rookie never really carried a lot of merit. Enter Lonnie Chisenhall and his hot bat to start the year, and the move makes less sense.
Diaz needs every day at-bats, and the only option is to send him to Triple-A.
So, where does Kipnis hit?
With that out of the way, Tito has said he will consult Michael Brantley and others about creative ways to re-integrate their second baseman into the order.
You could make the argument to not shake up the top five in the lineup. Carlos Santana reaches base often, making him a quality leadoff man. Francisco Lindor and Brantley absolutely should not be moved from the three- and four-holes, and Edwin Encarnacion is being paid to hit fourth. Jose Ramirez is so hot in the fifth-spot that it seems wrong to break up what he has done.
As a side note, some have made the argument that Lindor is your best hitter and therefore should hit third, with Brantley leading off. It is a salient concept, but Brantley’s ability to move runners, hit for contact and hit for power make him too valuable to move. Lindor has had success at the position when he can hit freely and get on base for Brantley.
So two-through-four is out of play for Kipnis.
There is no reason you can’t just drop Kip into the six spot and allow the top five to continue what they have built. The momentum is there, and Kipnis does not have that. He can also give Ramirez more protection.
While that is all good and well, you might get the best production one-through-six by hitting Kipnis leadoff. Stay with me.
Ideally, moving Kipnis to the top spot would allow you to move Santana into the five-hole, giving Encarnacion more protection. While Ramirez is a formidable hitter and has had tremendous success where he is at the moment, pitchers do not fear Ramirez the way they may Santana.
The advantage to Encarnacion that Santana presents is that he will wear the pitcher down and he knows it. Conceptually, Encarnacion is more likely to be challenged earlier with Santana on deck. If EE can clear the bases, Santana can reset the order in the same way he does at the top.
If your problem is removing Santana from the leadoff spot, take solace in the fact that he has hit better out of the five-spot than any other position in his career. Over 895 plate appearances, Santana has split .281/.371/.493, and that is without being flanked by hitters the caliber of Encarnacion and Ramirez. In 463 plate appearances from the leadoff spot, he splits .254/.371/.655.
As for Kipnis, he has been best in his career in the leadoff spot, splitting .281/.355/.424.
What will always bode well for Santana hitting first is that he is a switch-hitter.
Don’t expect Kipnis to emerge from the disabled list and go straight into the leadoff spot. Most likely, he will start fifth in protection of Encarnacion, or will slide into the six-hole behind Ramirez. Eventually, expect to see him in the leadoff spot at some point.