CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – For the majority of Jason Kipnis’s 39 innings in center field entering Wednesday, the converted second baseman had not gotten a whole lot of action at his new position.
That shifted heavily on Tuesday night as the former college outfielder had five putouts in center, with five more balls hit in his direction that fell for hits.
Of the five hits, two were deserving of criticism, those being Eduardo Escobar’s first inning triple and an 8th inning single from Robbie Grossman.
The Escobar three-bagger was hit at 100.7 mph at a 20-degree launch angle, good enough for a 57% hit probability according to Statcast, but just a 7% catch probability according to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian (catch probability is currently only available to MLB.com writers).
Those numbers are obviously not conducive to Kipnis, but it can be noted that Statcast captured the original break on the fielder to the ball, and it wasn’t ideal. Kipnis broke to his right before turning and breaking backwards as the ball dropped over his head and rolled to the wall.
Grossman’s single was hit 87.4 mph at 1 degree, carrying just a 34% hit probability. There are plenty of aspects of a play that hit probabilities do not capture, and the low number here is most likely caused by the sub-90 exit velocity. Kipnis did not have to travel far to get to the ball, but his positioning likely inhibited him.
That positioning, according to Manager Terry Francona, is something that started deeper and has worked more inward since Kipnis’s first appearance at the position on September 17th.
“(Bench Coach Brad Mills) works with him every day. I think Millsie is really happy with how he’s taken to it,” he said. “I think you’ve seen the last couple of games, he’s moved in a couple of steps each game, which means he’s getting more confident. I think he’s fine.”
Francona also said Kipnis looks more comfortable reacting to balls off of the bat in each appearance.
Of Kipnis’s putouts, only one had a hit probability over 20, a 36% percent flyout from Max Kepler in the 3rd.
“I think you want to get a point where you don’t really think about it during a game,” Francona added. “I think Kip is athletic enough where he’ll go get it. When he was playing (second base), in my opinion, he was the best I’d ever seen at going and getting the ball in the air. There’s really not enough different. He’s athletic enough where he’ll be just fine.”
Kipnis’s performance at the plate has been right on track with what the team would hope for, as well. The 30-year old is 6-for-15 in his last four games.
“The more at-bats he gets, that’s probably where I’m just as (curious),” Francona said. “The more at-bats he gets, it’s almost like putting gas in the tank. He’s starting to swing the bat a little bit better each game.”