CLEVELAND — When Jason Kipnis uttered what sounded like scathing criticism of the Indians on Monday after another season ended sooner than expected, it was enough for one teammate listening nearby to raise an eyebrow and tap the foot of another who sat next to him.
“It just seems from top to bottom we were outscouted, outhit, outpitched, outcoached a little bit,” Kipnis said after the Houston Astros wrapped up a sweep in the American League Division Series with an 11-3 victory. “They really did just a fantastic job over there of being ready and prepared before the series. I don’t think we were underprepared — they just went out and executed and played the way you need to play to win.”
One of the best soundbites from a disappointed and subdued clubhouse, Kipnis’ words were heard on radio and television, seen in print and online. Apparently there was something to them, because during a 51-minute postmortem Wednesday at Progressive Field, Indians manager Terry Francona said he addressed the comments with Kipnis, presumably during their exit interview.
“When it's public, I can understand why you'd ask,” Francona said. “But I'd like to keep my conversation with him private. But I'm comfortable that we had it.”
Just the fact that Francona and Kipnis had the conversation would seem to indicate that Kipnis touched a nerve. After working as an analyst for ESPN before he signed on with the Indians in 2013, Francona rarely issues what was essentially a no-comment, although in this case it is understandable, because it was a talk behind closed doors.
Reading between the lines on what Kipnis meant is another matter.
Was he still upset about being forced to move from second base to the outfield after the Indians traded for third baseman Josh Donaldson on Aug. 31, shifting Jose Ramirez to second?
Did Kipnis believe he was taking too much of the blame for the team’s postseason flop after he hit .111 against the Astros, while Ramirez went hitless, Donaldson batted .091 and Edwin Encarnacion .100?
Were there issues about players left on the bench, like Rajai Davis (0-for-20 lifetime against Game 3 starter Dallas Keuchel) or Greg Allen (0-for-3 vs. Keuchel)? There was little to second-guess in the short series save for Francona lifting Carlos Carrasco after 5 1/3 innings in Game 2, and that seemed defensible since the Astros were starting to hit the ball hard, albeit right at people.
Kipnis is a team guy, once dubbed the “heart and soul” of the Indians by former manager Mike Hargrove, so it’s hard to believe those were the issues that prompted his comments.
More likely it is Kipnis’ frustration that the Indians organization, a farm system for Major League Baseball executives, could not compete with the Astros because of the latter’s superior scouting and analytics.
As the Tribe’s Game 3 starter, Mike Clevinger observed afterward: “We kind of had our backs against the wall before this started when it came to the analytical side. They just had some really good arms and a good lineup to back it up.”
Baseball insiders believe the Astros are the best organization in the league in terms of analytics and scouting, although the Indians still rank among the top 10. Unfortunately for the Tribe, some above them are also the highest-ranking payroll teams.
Called up from Triple-A in 2011, Kipnis has been around long enough to be disturbed by the fact that others are passing the Indians by in terms of preparation, going so far as to use multiple high-speed cameras to film every play, according to The Athletic. Trevor Bauer, a devotee of such technology in the offseason, could be pushing for the Indians to dive deeper into that side of the game, and he might be gaining support among his teammates.
The Indians saw an opponent celebrate on their home field for the third consecutive year, the Astros joining the Cubs (2016 World Series) and Yankees (2017 ALDS). Clevinger and Kipnis sound like they’re convinced the defending champion Astros had the edge before the series because of their detailed study of the Indians’ tendencies and weaknesses.
Francona discussed what sounded like stinging words from Kipnis, which could prompt the Indians to ramp up their cutting-edge tactics as they have before. Short of hiring Paul “Moneyball” DePodesta away from the Browns, it may be the best way to prevent more dogpiles in the infield that they’re watching from afar.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.