Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Like Ben Stiller in "Meet the Parents," Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has re-entered the "circle of trust."
However, fantasy owners will have to decide whether Kipnis' surge will last, or if he's going to be kicked out again like Stiller was after Robert De Niro discovered that he had merely spray painted another cat's tail instead of finding the real Mr. Jinx.
Kipnis is currently the top second baseman in fantasy and the No. 16 overall player in Yahoo! leagues due to a .299 average, 12 homers, 51 RBI, 44 runs, 19 steals and a .917 OPS.
The second baseman has reached this point by going 20-for-40 (.500) with eight doubles, one triple, three homers, 17 RBI and 12 walks during his active 12- game hitting streak and 68-for-200 (.340) with a 1.056 OPS in 54 games since May 3.
Kipnis hit just .235 with three homers and 64 strikeouts in his final 87 games last season, but fantasy owners still drafted him fifth among second baseman in 2013 drafts due to his decent power-speed combo. He likely didn't have many supporters when he started out 14-for-74 (.189) with one homer and a 27.4 percent K rate over his first 18 games this season.
The Indians second baseman also started out as one of fantasy's best second baseman last season, batting .284 with 11 homers, 41 RBI, 46 runs and 17 steals over his first 65 games.
Let's analyze what type of hitter Kipnis was over the first three months last season to see if history is going to repeat itself.
From April-June 2012, Kipnis had a 15.9 percent strikeout rate, a 7.7 percent walk rate, a 22.9 percent line-drive rate, a 43.5 percent groundball rate and a .295 BABIP.
This year, Kipnis' strikeout and walk rates are both up from the same stretch in 2012, sitting at 22.1 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively. But so is his line-drive rate, which is 24 percent. His BABIP is .357, but it isn't because he has been luckier than last season.
Kipnis has made his own luck by crushing the ball more frequently. Not only is his HR/FB higher than it was during the first three months last year, 16.7 percent to 13.1 percent, his extra-base hit rate is up from 6.2 percent to 11.5 percent in the same span. His extra-base hit percentage over the entire 2012 season was just 6.0 percent in 672 plate appearances.
The 26-year-old has batted .368 (25-for-68) with a 31.9 percent extra-base hit rate on flyballs this season. In 2012, Kipnis hit .191 with a 16.6 percent extra-base hit rate on flyballs.
Kipnis has made these improvements by chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone than last year. His chase rate was 24.1 percent in 2012 and is 20.6 percent this season.
His strikeout rate is likely up because his contact rate on pitches out of the zone is just 60 percent, down from 70.3 percent last year. But I don't see anything wrong with that, especially because his contact rate on pitches in the zone is exactly the same as last season at 89.5 percent. It's more difficult to make hard contact on pitches out of the zone than pitches over the plate, obviously. What matters is that Kipnis is both chasing fewer pitches out of the zone and not missing when the ball comes over the plate. Who cares if he misses some pitches that he wouldn't have done anything with anyway?
Kipnis' 22.1 percent strikeout rate might make it difficult for him to maintain a .300 batting average, but the newfound power in his bat is tantalizing from a fantasy perspective, especially from a second baseman.
That means Kipnis can stay in the "circle of trust," and we don't even need to meet his parents to make that decision like De Niro had to do with Stiller's crazy folks, played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, in the sequel.