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2013 Key Players: Lonnie Chisenhall

2013 Key Players: Lonnie Chisenhall
March 11, 2013
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My second look into the key players for the 2013 Cleveland Indians focuses on third basemen Lonnie Chisenhall. The first piece centered on Justin Masterson.

Chisenhall enters 2013 as the biggest wildcard of the Indians’ position players. After a broken bone in his arm sidelined him for the majority of the 2012 season, the team is hoping that 2013 marks a breakout campaign for the former top-prospect. Long-hailed as the future of the hot corner for the Indians, the 2008 first-rounder will no longer have to fight Jack Hannahan for the position in 2013. He may sit in favor of Mike Aviles against some left-handed pitching, but all signs are pointing to Chisenhall being given something close to 500 at-bats this season.

Chisenhall's importance to the Indians in 2013 is threefold. First, the Indians don’t have a suitable replacement should Chisenhall fail. While Aviles is a solid utility player, he’s not a capable starting third basemen and Columbus offers little in terms of a solution. Second, on a team with a starting outfield devoid of power, they’ll need Chisenhall to bring some pop and run production to the bottom of the lineup. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, with Hannahan in Cincinnati and a shaky starting pitching staff, the team needs Chisenhall to be steady in the field.

He has a lot to prove.

Despite the relative magnitude of Chisenhall’s tasks, he will have the benefit of easing into the position. While the Indians certainly expect and need Chisenhall to produce more than the third basemen before him, he won’t be tasked with carrying the offense. That onus falls to Carlos SantanaAsdrubal CabreraJason KipnisMichael Brantley, and new additions Nick SwisherMark ReynoldsDrew Stubbs, and Michael Bourn.

The key offensively for Chisenhall is going to be his plate discipline.

Chisenhall has shown he can make solid contact, but his plate discipline has been disappointing. In 2011 and 2012 in the majors Chisenhall’s walk rate was a combined 4.3%. In 2012 in Columbus his walk rate was only 3.2%. These are numbers that have to improve for him to take the next step as a hitter. For his part, Chisenhall understands, stating in a recent Plain Dealer article that “I need to be more selective.” His plate discipline and inability to hit left-handers are black marks on his offensive profile, but it’s important not to forget that Chisenhall has hit at every level of the minors at a relatively young age.

In 354 at-bats in the majors over the past two years Chisenhall has had a respectable .260/.295/.421 slash line, showing above average power in the process. Even if you took those numbers over a full-season, it’s a drastic improvement from what the team received from Jack Hannanhan. Chisenhall is hitting .409 with two home runs and a 4:3 BB/K ratio in 22 at-bats this spring. While spring training statistics aren’t generally considered important, I bring them up because last year in 39 spring at-bats Chisenhall hit only .205 with 16 strikeouts to only one walk. Particularly in regard to plate discipline, those numbers were a precursor to struggles during the season.

For the 2013 season Bill James projects a .262/.310/.433 slash line with a WAR of 2.2.  If he can beat those projections the Indians could have a truly special lineup, and he seems to be off to a good start.

In the field the team will need Chisenhall to take a step forward at third base and become a consistent and dependable defender. By all accounts he’s been below average at third base in his time in Cleveland; however, scouting reports suggest that Chisenhall has a strong arm, good range, and the tools to become a good defender.

The problem for Chisenhall has been consistency. His six errors in 30 games last season was good for a .921 fielding percentage, which if prorated out for the entire year would have ranked him at the bottom of MLB third basemen. Chisenhall is still young though, and he should continue to refine his skills in the field. Unfortunately though, the Indians aren’t going to be in a position this year to give away runs. Strong play on defense is at the top of the list of things the Indians need from Lonnie this year.

With the state of turmoil that has plagued the Indians over the past couple of years, the team really needs Lonnie Chisenhall to step forward and claim third base for years to come. As fans, we have a general understanding of what the other eight regulars in their lineup are going to provide us, but Chisenhall is the big question mark. That’s why he’s a key player. If he produces up to his talent level, we could see the deepest Cleveland Indians lineup since the late 90’s.

If Chiz doesn’t produce and his defense doesn’t take a step forward, then once again we could be left with a black hole at third base without relief in sight.

User Comments

March 12, 2013 - 8:27 AM EDT
What I like is there will be no more "lost" innings. You know, where they announce that the Tribe will be sending up Damon, Kotchman, and Marson in the bottom of the 6th, for example.

You just know they aren't going to score and you might as well go take care of some errands and come back later.

I don't know how Francona is going to set up his lineup, but I'm confident there will be no more "lost innings" when you have guys like Chiz and Stubbs in the bottom third of the order. They'll have a realistic chance to score every inning.

March 11, 2013 - 4:34 PM EDT
I think Chiz is going to have a break out year. Something around the lines of .275 avg and 17-20 homers. If he can do that and Stubbs can have a bounce back year this offense is primed to explode.

Which is what I really like about this lineup. Stubbs, Santana, Kipnis, Chisenhall, Brantley. Alot of guys who have the upside to turn in very good offensive seasons. They now have protection as well with Bourn, Swisher, Reynolds and Asdrubal. As well as depth off the bench with Aviles, Raburn and Giambi.

I think Ryan Raburn helps protect him against left handed pitching.

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