Is this the end of days for Lonnie Chisenhall?

Lonnie Chisenhall

Lonnie Chisenhall

Last season, I really wanted Lonnie Chisenhall to take the third base job by the throat and strangle it. The Tribe’s former first-round pick—and the supposed future of the hot corner—was given the job last Spring with little looking over his shoulder. Sure, the Indians had brought in Mark Reynolds on a one-year deal, but that was to be a first base/designated hitter option. His days at third were thought to have been behind him. And sure, Mike Aviles was on the roster, but he was to be a jack-of-all-trades. This was Big Lon’s time.

They say that the pitchers are usually ahead of the batters earlier in the season, but it behooved Lonnie to take all doubt out of who was the guy at third base. He sputtered out of the gate, hitting .222/.253/.656 in April. He was even worse during the first two weeks in May, going 4-for-22 (all singles). His already average defense didn’t help his cause. Not helping matters was Reynolds’ smokin’ hot bat, and with his ability to go back to his old position, the Tribe brass decided to send Lonnie down to Triple-A to give him a chance to catch his breath.

It looked like a genius move. Chisenhall destroyed Triple-A pitching to the tune of .392/.456/1.132 with 26 runs batted in through 27 games. It was more frustrating that exciting; Lonnie had already graduated from Triple-A and his May/June stint confirmed it. The real question at that point: Was Chiz a 4-A guy?

He came back up and was a platoon player at third with Aviles. His inability to hit lefties was still a serious problem, but he was doing the job. His .270/.289/.749 June and .271/.338/.779 July showed improvement1, but there was little power. In August, Lonnie fell off the table going 9-for-62 (.145) with 16 strikeouts and just three walks. By September,  Chiz was all but a bench player. During the Tribe’s 10-game winning streak to close the season, he only started twice and in one of those starts, he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning.

Strangely, Terry Francona played a hunch and gave Chisenhall the start in the Wild Card game against Tampa Bay righty Alex Cobb. Cobb shut everyone down; Chiz came through with three hits. The season ended there, but Lonnie had to know this was a huge winter for him, with a lot completely out of his control.

QUOTEUnfortunately for him, the organization’s decision to turn Carlos Santana into a third baseman spoke volumes about their current view of Chiz’s future. Francona and Chris Antonetti continued to say all positive things about Lonnie, but the writing was on the wall: If Santana could handle third base, the job was going to be his. It became more and more apparent in Goodyear that the organization wanted this experiment to be a success. Despite the fact that Chisenhall hit well this Spring (.303/.362/.918 in 62 ABs), Francona gave the third base job to Santana. Chisenhall broke camp with the big club, but where would his at-bats come from?

With Jason Giambi starting the season on disabled list, conventional wisdom would have Chisenhall as the designated hitter against right-handed pitching. But there we were on Opening Night in Oakland, facing Sonny Gray—a right-hander—and Ryan Raburn was in the middle of the lineup as the Tribe’s DH.

To make matters worse for Chisenhall, the Indians signed a quality backup catcher in George Kotarras on the eve of the season. You may ask, “what does this have to do with Lonnie?” Right now, Santana is listed as the backup catcher to Yan Gomes. But it was no secret that the Indians were looking for a good second option so Santana could concentrate on honing his craft at third. When Kotarras became available, the Indians scooped him right up.

If Lonnie isn’t getting starts at DH against right-handed pitching, Giambi will soon be back from the disabled list, and Kotarras was brought in. Doesn’t this all add up to Chisenhall’s eventual demotion to Columbus? He still has options and it is better for him to be playing every day with the Clippers than sitting on the bench in Cleveland.

I am hoping that I am wrong, but if you read the tea leaves, you can see how the organization feels about Lonnie long term. At age 25, it is still too early to write him off, but it is starting to look like the Indians may have swung and missed on another first-round pick.

——-

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  1. Especially considering his abysmal luck—his BABiP for 2013 was .243 as compared to his career mark of .274 []
  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    Honestly, if Lonnie could just get himself to be more disciplined at the plate he could turn things around. That’s been the major crux of problems.

    The off-speed pitch at his shoe laces had to be like a 90% swinging strike in any count last year. He was marginally successful after his recall because he was more patient.

  • Adam Copeland

    The real problem with Chisenhall is that he is just awful against left handed pitching. Against righties, he’s an above average player, but his awfulness against lefties makes him little more than a platoon option. With Gomes solidfying the catcher position, it’s not surprising that the Indians were intrigued with a power hitting, switch hitting Santana moving over to third, where he wouldn’t need to platoon. I’m not going to go as far to say that Chiz is a bust, but his inability to hit left handed pitching will probably mean he never ends up as more than a solid bench piece. While Giambi is on the DL, I’d like to see him get some ABs as the DH though against RHP.

  • mgbode

    I agree he is only a platoon guy right now, but why are we having Raburn take his platoon DH spot? That part doesn’t make sense to me. If we are going to put a 25yo Lonnie on the 25man, then he needs to have that role at least.

  • Steve

    I’m not even sure I’d call it a swing and miss. If Santana is the regular 3B and Giambi is the regular DH vs RHP, I’d say it’s watching strike three go by without taking the bat off the shoulder.

    Chisenhall has proven he can dominate AAA pitching. There’s no reason for him to go back there. He’s got to sink or swim against the big boys. Run him out there, do what you need to do to keep his confidence up during tough stretches, and make sure he’s not looking over his shoulder every time he has a rough day, or even week.

    This is his age 25 season, the same age that the team let Phillips go. He is still fairly young, still should be improving. Give him that chance, at least until the options to replace him are better than Santana’s defense at 3B and Raburn’s bat at DH.

  • Steve

    “why are we having Raburn take his platoon DH spot”

    Absolutely, this is the big question for me. If Raburn, and seemingly Giambi, are ahead of Chisenhall, why roster him?

  • Adam Copeland

    I agree with both of you. If a right handed pitcher is on the mound, they should be doing what they can to get Lonnie in the lineup. Kazmir is starting for the A’s in the 1st game and Chiz won’t be in the lineup, but I suspect we’ll see him for game 2. I’m thinking DHing Raburn against a righty was just an opening day thing. I’d also not give Giambi a roster spot.

  • CB Everett

    I think you roster him at the very least as an insurance policy in case the Santa experiment goes sideways. Plus, it is just one game…who knows how much they’ll end up using Chis in the DH spot going forward, spot starts at 3B, pinch hitting, defensive subs in the late innings, etc.

  • Alex Painter

    I am with you. Let him find a way to put the pieces together. Sink or swim. I think he is a guy that will indeed figure things out if given a strong vote of confidence. The trajectories of other pretty good 3rd basemen have been similar to Lonnie’s.

  • Steve

    If the Santana experiment goes sideways, you can call Chisenhall up from AAA. Meanwhile, you already have two guys on the bench who can play 3B in Aviles and Johnson. Unless Chisenhall is at least primarily DHing against RHP, he’s a pretty awful use of a roster spot.

  • Steve

    I think a significant part in the difference between the development of Kipnis and Marte is how they were treated as part of the team. Wedge found a reason to nail Marte to the bench whenever he could. Kipnis was given the starting 2B job, with the only real “competition” being Jason Donald and Cord Phelps, and told to go do his thing. His 2012, especially the second half, didn’t live up to the hype, but he was given every opportunity to learn on the job, and I think he came out much better for it.

  • mgbode

    i’m wishy-washy on this part. i see where you need to give a young prospect enough rope that he’ll either hang himself or create a lifeline from it. however, i also think that most of the good ones will find a way of forcing you to give them that rope.

  • Steve

    I get that, but I think that such a big part of success at the MLB level is figuring out how to handle all the ups and downs of 162 games. Being able to take a tough day at the park and knowing you can come back and make up for it within 24 hours. Going on a hot streak but still understanding you’ve got to show up at the park early the next day. That’s got to be a lot tougher when you’re “will I or won’t I” on getting to play.

    I guess you can still get that in the minors, but I think it’s different, especially for a guy like Chisenhall who hasn’t really had much of a challenge until this point.

  • Eric G

    I’d like to see what percentage of first-round picks really pan out in the bigs. I feel like even mentioning where someone was drafted is irrelevant these days.

  • Steve

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/one-in-six-draft-picks-will-click/

    73% make the majors, 39% stick around for at least three years.

  • Steve

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/one-in-six-draft-picks-will-click/

    73% make the majors, 39% stick around for at least three years.

  • mgbode

    and guys like LaPorta are part of that 39% number. the question becomes whether the organization gives them more time because they were 1st round picks or they get that time due to the talent that made them 1st round picks. tough to decipher sometimes.

  • mgbode

    and guys like LaPorta are part of that 39% number. the question becomes whether the organization gives them more time because they were 1st round picks or they get that time due to the talent that made them 1st round picks. tough to decipher sometimes.

  • Natedawg86

    Tito plays numbers and hunches well. It was 1 game. Lets let this thing play out for a week+. Maybe Raburn has historically been a beast on opening days?

  • Natedawg86

    Tito plays numbers and hunches well. It was 1 game. Lets let this thing play out for a week+. Maybe Raburn has historically been a beast on opening days?

  • Steve

    Excellent points, it’s tough to separate the LaPortas from the true success stories without parsing the data too finely.

    Here’s a study done on the success by groups of draft picks.

    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/6/25/4457048/2013-mlb-draft-how-valuable-are-draft-picks

  • Steve

    Excellent points, it’s tough to separate the LaPortas from the true success stories without parsing the data too finely.

    Here’s a study done on the success by groups of draft picks.

    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/6/25/4457048/2013-mlb-draft-how-valuable-are-draft-picks

  • Natedawg86

    Especially with the weird things that go on when a team drafts a guy and he decides he wants to go to college or stay in college instead of signing a contract

  • Steve

    “Tito plays numbers and hunches well”

    I’m skeptical of this. He manages egos and the clubhouse with the best of them, but I haven’t exactly been thrilled with his lineups/bullpen usage. I’d even say he manages games less than optimally specifically to cater to the egos. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing – obviously it’s worked well so far.

  • mgbode

    that study really helps validate the Nationals and now Astros strategy to team building. They used the NBA-model of clearing the decks and tanking to get top draft picks. They then get those top picks best years at a reduced rate.
    Of course, the extra advantage both teams have is being in an unbalanced marketplace where they are in large markets and can afford more than most teams, which also means they will be able to afford to retain these players once they reach full market value (post arbitration years).

  • nj0

    Also worth noting that three years means 450 games.Chiz is already at 203. Reading the tea leaves, I have to imagine the 25 year old will most likely hit that threshold.

  • nj0

    Most young players take a lot of time to adapt to left handed pitching. They simply don’t get to see enough of it in the minors. Chisenhall could very well improve, given the opportunity to do so. Considering how we like to platoon, I don’t know if he’ll get the reps though.

  • nj0

    Most young players take a lot of time to adapt to left handed pitching. They simply don’t get to see enough of it in the minors. Chisenhall could very well improve, given the opportunity to do so. Considering how we like to platoon, I don’t know if he’ll get the reps though.

  • Mike Stein

    When your backup catcher is playing third, you can’t use your backup third baseman as DH.

  • nj0

    Yeah, I like Tito and I understand we’re sort of in a “win now” situation, but I’m not crazy with how we handled Chisenhall thus far. It’s beginning to remind me of Marte and Phillips. I don’t know, maybe the scouts and coaches see holes in his swing or some obvious reason for his failure. Obviously, he hasn’t hit that well, especially against lefties. But…. he’s had all of 129 PAs vs. them. And just over a full season against righties. And that’s over three seasons of up-and-down, don’t play every day, you’re our 3rd baseman and now you’re not.

    Again, maybe he just doesn’t have it and the team can see that. Just hope we’re not sabotaging the kid.

  • nj0

    Why not?

  • Mike Stein

    Because if you put your DH in the field, you lose the DH.

    Although come to think of it, Aviles is more the backup 3B than Chisenhall. So yea, Chis was on the bench cuz he blows.

  • nj0

    So if Gomes got injured with Santana (3B) and Chisenhall (DH) in the lineup, couldn’t we move Santana to catcher, Chisenhall to 3B, put Raburn (or whomever) in for Gomes and move him to DH? Or are there rules prohibit moving a player who started as DH to the field?

  • nj0

    Ah, I see. DH can’t be replaced by someone who has already entered the game.

  • Mike Stein

    If you put your DH in the field, then your pitcher must bat the rest of the game.

    I think the second game of today’s doubleheader will tell the tale. Chisenhall should be in the game somewhere.

  • nj0

    I did not know that. So Gomes better not go down when Santana is DHing.

  • nj0

    He does platoon well.

  • Mike Stein

    Yep, that is the danger, and probably why you’ll see Kottaras taking Chisenhall’s spot soon.

  • mgbode

    I don’t think that scenario should be in consideration for a roster spot. If Gomes gets hurt during a game, then it is an isolated incident. Santana is usually going to be at 3B and sometimes at 1B or even given the day off. If we happen to have the added misfortune of him being DH, then we can pinch hit for the relief pitchers and the starters can use it as interleague practice.

  • mgbode

    it happened to us last year.

  • REEPJP

    Let’s hope Lonnie has sort of an Alex Gordon 2011 (Age 27 season) coming of age. Top prospect that was thought to be a failure, and just when you’re getting ready to write him off…a little bit shines through.

  • MikeLew

    Correct. If you move the DH to a defensive position, you no longer get to use a DH at all- your pitchers must now hit.

  • Kildawg

    See the game last year where Marson got taken out at the plate. Santana was the DH. Pitcher (Bauer started that game) had to hit.

  • Kildawg

    I started to call that when the Indians picked up Kottaras.

  • Steve

    I think a lot of that is from the higher ups. Its how the roster is constructed. Meanwhile hes trying to take the bat out of both Kipnis and Santana’s hands with the game on the line.

  • Richie Marie

    Odd But Nevertheless , Feasible home decoration,promotional gift,sport medals Practices

    http://xameiguang.en.alibaba.com/

  • Steve

    They dealt with that risk last year with little problem. I’m not worried too worried about it. I’d rather take the slight risk that a pitcher might have to bat once than put Raburn out against almost every RHP

  • hardcoregrunt

    Come on Lonnie, I’m a big fan of yours and I know you can do it. Please.

  • Secrecy

    Uhh, no.