I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Lonnie Chisenhall is raking in Spring Training. He’s put up a .550/.609/1.050 line so far. He’s already hit two doubles, two homers, and one triple in only 20 at bats.
Oh, and one more thing: The Indians don’t really have an incumbent at third base—Chisenhall’s position. Jayson Nix kind of stinks. Jason Donald has never played there. And Shelley Duncan? Well depending on whom you ask, he can’t play third either.
So it’s not at all shocking that as Chisenhall continues to amaze us with his spring performance, we start to see a groundswell of support for him to make the opening day roster. TD touched on this sentiment earlier in the week, and I’ve heard some similar suggestions from a number of Tribe fans.
And it might surprise you to hear me say that I’m not here to put that groundswell down. Well, not exactly – I’m here to make sure that it’s coming from the right place.
First, let’s make sure that we’re not suggesting that Chisenhall make the team simply because of a hot spring. The sample sizes just aren’t remotely reasonable. Over his minor league career—about 1,400 plate appearances—Chisenhall has been a .273/.342/.456 hitter. That’s pretty good, especially for a kid who’s typically been younger than most of his competition. But it’s a far cry from the numbers he’s put up this spring. And when we have to compare a sample of 25 plate appearances to nearly 1,400, which do you think we should believe? I think we already know the answer.
Is it possible that this off-season Chisenhall has gone from slightly above average AA player to the best MLB hitter that the league has ever seen? Sure, I guess it is. It’s also possible that I’ll win the lottery. It really is.
Even so, I don’t think that’s why people are pining for the Chiz-Kid. Nobody really believes that Spring Training numbers mean anything, or least not much. What people seem to be saying is two-fold. First, that Lonnie Chisenhall might be our best option at third base. And second, that if he is our best option, we should play him. Let’s take these one at a time.
Is Chisenhall the best option we have at third? I really don’t know—we just don’t have that much to go on. But let’s keep in mind his minor league numbers. He’s never played above AA, so we’ll use those numbers as a gauge. Which of these AA careers belongs to the superstar infielder?
Player A is Jason Donald. That guy you’re already sick of and who was too crummy to be included in Cliff Lee trade.
Player B is Jason Kipnis. He’s good. I like him. But keep in mind he’s basically Jason Donald (whom I also kinda like).
Player C is Kevin Kouzmanoff. The guy who can’t really hit or field well enough for MLB at this point in his career.
And Player D is Lonnie Chisenhall.
I’m not showing you these numbers because I don’t like Chisenhall. I promise that I do. But the only real information that we have suggests that he’s less ready to hit at the MLB level than the rest of these guys. We must at least consider this when we start advocating that he be handed the opening day job. He is really young, and really unaccomplished, and the facts suggest that he might not actually be ready for the Big Leagues.
Nevertheless, let’s say that, considering the dearth of viable options at third base, we conclude that Chisenhall is our best option. Despite his minor league numbers, this is not an entirely unreasonable stance to take. After all, none of the in-house options look to be so good. Jayson Nix had an OBP of .281 last season, which is execrable. Jason Donald doesn’t seem to know how to play third base, which could really hurt considering our staff led the league in GB% last year. So we’ve decided not to allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good, and declare Chisenhall to be the most capable third baseman available to us.
Should the best player make the team? This seems obvious, and to a lot of people it is: absolutely. If we don’t have a better option, then Chisenhall should be our everyday third baseman.
And again, this is a defensible stance to take. You play to win the game, etc. But let’s say that I told you we only get to keep Chisenhall for a certain amount of time, and that after that time, he will be no longer be allowed to play for the Indians. Would you use up one of those seasons before you could get Kipnis and Pomeranz and White and Weglarz up with him? Would you play him in 2011 and hope to win the World Series this season, or save your bullets to fight once the cavalry arrives?
It’s not that I’m not seduced by the Spring Lonnie is having—I am. I want to believe that he’s the next Carlos Santana. I want to believe that he’s ready to take over, since we need him so badly. I want to believe that he’ll be a part of the next core-group of players that will bring a World Series to Cleveland. And I want to believe that it can all start now, without any more waiting. I’m tired of waiting.
After all, that’s how people feel in the spring, right?