The Indians have a 26-year-old third baseman who has been been both wildly successful and disappointing throughout his four years in the majors. And unfortunately, there’s been very little in between the two extremes.
The Indians have to make a decision regarding Lonnie Chisenhall’s future this offseason, and it’s not going to be an easy call to make.
Given the Indians financial situation, it will be difficult to bring a free agent into the fold, but the Indians do have the ability to adjust the roster via a trade. In need of an upgrade in the lineup, third base is one of the areas the Tribe could look to improve.
For the record, I’m not trying to make an argument for or against Chisenhall with this piece. I’m willing to trust the Indians on this one, as I’ll talk about later. This piece is simply set up to highlight a few of the major issues Chisenhall faces and what the Indians need to consider this offseason.
Performance vs Lefties
One of the most encouraging signs from Chisenhall’s early-season success was his performance against lefties. The Indians broadcasts continually showed Chisenhall’s stats against lefties due to the shocking numbers, but they were incredibly misleading due to a small sample size and an absolutely impossibly good, Babe-Ruth-combined-with-Barry-Bonds start to the year.
Chisenhall entered the All-Star break with a .333 average against lefties, which had Indians fans screaming that he should be in the lineup against lefties more often. But what Francona probably realized was the fact that his absurdly unsustainable .563 average in April and May skewed those numbers for the remainder of the year.
|1. June – Sept ’14||.247||.301||.307||.324|
|2. April – May ’14||.563||.813||.611||.615|
As you can see from the chart, Chisenhall’s performance against lefties for the majority of the year (June through September) dropped back down into a more realistic and somewhat disappointing range.
A .307 OBP against lefties is not acceptable for an everyday third baseman, however, it’s still a substantial increase from the embarrassing .225 mark he posted through his first three years in the league.
The improvement is certainly encouraging, but the Indians need to determine how much more room there is for growth.
Too Many Strikeouts, Not Enough Walks, Not Enough Power
Strikeouts have become an acceptable part of the game, but only under certain conditions. For example, Carlos Santana struck out in 18 percent of his plate appearances last season. But 25 percent of Santana’s plate appearances resulted in either a walk or an extra-base hit.
Chisenhall also struck out in 18 percent of his plate appearances, but produced a walk or an extra-base hit in just eight percent of his plate appearances.
The rate at which Chisenhall strikes out doesn’t have to be concerning, but has become so due to his lack of an eye at the plate and the lack of development in his power.
Take a look at the list of corner infielders in their age-25 season since 1990 with twice as many strikeouts as walks and an OPS under .800. There are some recognizable names on here, but it’s a pretty disappointing list overall.
The Indians need to determine if Chisenhall has the tools to continue his development in this area and morph into a Joe Crede-type third baseman, or if the strikeout issue will continue to plague him and force him to fizzle out like former Indian Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Struggling with Inside Pitches
It’s tough to project sustained success for a player with an obvious hole in their swing.
Chisenhall struggles mightily with the inside pitch, and did not show any meaningful improvement during the 2014 season. His .154 career average on inside pitches ranks as the eighth worst among left-handed batters since 2011, and his .171 average in 2014 showed only marginal improvement.
The issue for Chisenhall on inside pitches relates to his issue with the strike zone. He chased 35 percent of the inside pitches he saw which were out of the strike zone, the 11th worst inside-pitch chase percentage among lefties in 2014. To better put that number into perspective, Santana chased just 15 percent of the inside pitches he saw off the plate.
So what should they do?
Chisenhall took a step in the right direction this season, and he’s only 26 years old. For those reasons, it’s certainly reasonable to hope that he could continue his development and emerge as a quality everyday third baseman. But only the Indians coaching staff and front office know if they can trust Chisenhall to continue to grow.
When I’m not writing for IPL, I’m scouting NFL prospects for DraftAce.com and Bleacher Report, which I have been doing for a little over a decade. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in attempting to project the development of young athletes, it’s that no outsider can predict development better than those who see the work ethic of the athlete on a daily basis.
Whenever I speak with a coach or teammate who speaks negatively about a prospect’s work ethic, that player eventually fails to succeed at the next level 100 percent of the time. For that reason, when it comes to a player like Chisenhall – someone who shows promise, but also reason for concern – I’m willing to trust those who see him every day.
The Indians will obviously look at the issues I’ve outlined here, and probably many others, when considering Chisenhall’s future. But if they decide it’s time to move on, I will fully support that decision. After seeing him at the major league level for parts of four seasons, the front office should have a strong understanding of Chisenhall’s work ethic and his ability to continue to elevate his game.