A View From Studio 3: Kipnis on verge of stardom
Wow. The first-place Indians are a blast to watch these days. I didn't see this coming at the beginning of the season. They're headed into a two-game series against the powerhouse Tigers having just completed a dramatic four-game sweep of the Mariners.
Aside from their three walk-off wins in that series, a few things jumped out.
First is the "fun" factor. Very high. Off the charts. We've all seen teams that win a lot, but the victories aren't compelling or memorable. Yawn. Not the case with manager Terry Francona's guys. It's entertaining baseball played by a club that appears to be "in" every game no matter the score.
The second is how the Tribe continues to beat the best pitching in the league. More on that a little later.
Then there's second baseman Jason Kipnis, who may be on the verge of becoming a legitimate star.
If you haven't seen much of Kipnis, put it on your short list of things to do (after paying the bills and cleaning the grill for a holiday weekend cookout). When asked recently about his own style, Kipnis compared himself with Chase Utley and fellow Arizona State alum Dustin Pedroia. Kipnis wasn't bragging, He was just being honest.
They're all the kind of guys who would eat glass to get on base. The type whose uniforms are dirty before the national anthem. Exactly the guys you want on your team but don't want to play against. The players you emulate (or at least try to) while hoping to impress coworkers at the company softball game.
Pedroia is an elite second baseman with a body of work that dates back to 2007. His grit and attitude are often cited when fans and insiders discuss difference-makers and tone-setters.
Now consider the numbers.
Since the beginning of 2012, Kipnis (a converted outfielder) and Pedroia appear neck and neck among the top second basemen in the American League in several major offensive categories -- homers, RBIs, runs and OBP.
What's more, they've both had the opportunity to play for Francona (a former Arizona Wildcat).
Off the field, in a category that's completely subjective, I'll give the edge to Kipnis when it comes to entertaining interviews, as he recently gave into temptation and ate an ice cream bar that appeared in the sea of microphones during a clubhouse scrum with a dozen or so reporters in his face.
The obvious difference between the two is that Pedroia has played in 28 postseason games and has a World Series ring. Kipnis has not yet had the privilege of playing in October, but if the first two months of the season are any indication, he may get his shot this year.
Kipnis, Pedroia and the best second baseman in the AL, Robinson Cano, are part of a pendulum swing that has taken place in the Junior Circuit. Throughout the 1990s, second basemen trailed shortstops slightly when it came to home runs and RBIs.
Shortstops held serve in the 2000s, with an edge in homers, RBIs, OPS and slugging.
But since 2010, second basemen have moved ahead and have become better run producers than shortstops in all the categories listed above.
Look at today's stats. Five AL second basemen -- Cano, Kelly Johnson, Ian Kinsler, Kipnis and Howie Kendrick -- have at least six homers and 20 RBIs while slugging over .450. In contrast, there are no shortstops with those numbers. The closest is J.J. Hardy, who has eight homers, 26 RBIs and a .427 slugging percentage.
While we're talking about the Indians, how about this for the one of the weirder facts you've heard in ages? This season, former Cy Young Award winners are a combined 1-7 vs. the Indians, with a whopping 8.21 ERA. That's right. You heard me. 8.21. And the Tribe is hitting .328 against them.
Let's review: In 2013 the Indians have defeated:
R.A. Dickey (won the NL Cy in 2012)
David Price (2012)
Roy Halladay (2003, 2010)
Cliff Lee (2008)
Bartolo Colon (2005)
Justin Verlander (2011)
Felix Hernandez (2010)
Cleveland's only loss to a former Cy Young winner this year was to Jake Peavy (2007).
Looking ahead, the Indians face Verlander again on Wednesday.
Just to wrap this up, here's a historic add to the Indians/Cy Young story. The only other teams with seven victories against Cy Young winners in the first 42 games of a season are the 1976 Indians (7-2) and 1975 Red Sox (7-1).
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.