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Orbiting Cleveland: Getting a read on Lonnie Chisenhall

Monday's demotion of the Indians' third baseman was well deserved

Orbiting Cleveland: Getting a read on Lonnie Chisenhall
May 17, 2013
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A competitive team is always looking for ways to improve the club. Regardless of circumstances, winning teams are always willing to take the necessary steps that will ultimately lead that team toward a championship.

Some of these moves or decisions along the way are not always the most popular, but again, they're all done in an effort to bring home the ultimate prize.

After Monday, it appears as if the Cleveland Indians may now qualify as one of these teams.

On that day, the Indians decided to send third baseman and former first round pick Lonnie Chisenhall back down to Triple-A Columbus. For many, the move was a complete shocker, but should it have been?

The Indians are clearly in win-first mode, and the team's front office believes this year's team has a significant chance to do some damage in the American League Central. While Chisenhall may have only appeared in 26 games, his 0.1 WAR certainly was not doing much to help the Indians achieve their goal of winning. A winning team needs to get the most out of every member of the 25-man roster, and the Indians clearly have not been getting the most from Chisenhall's roster spot.

In those 26 games, Chisenhall has gone 20-for-94 (.213/.253/.604) with four doubles, three home runs, three walks and 22 strikeouts. He's also struggled mightily against left-handers as he's hit just .091 this season in the Majors against southpaws.

So the numbers do seem to indicate that Tribe fans probably should not have seen Monday's demotion as the colossal shocker that it came across as. Chisenhall had shown some minor glimpses, but the fact is that he never showed the consistency of an everyday player.

For years, it's been the same story with Chisenhall. "He has not had enough Major League at-bats." "Give him some time. He's still barely 24 years old." "Once he learns how to hit left-handers, he'll be devastating." These were all common thoughts shared by many Tribe fans.

Indians fans always seemed to have faith in Chisenhall and his future regardless of circumstances, but it's now clear that there's a marked difference between faith and blind faith.

There was a hope that Chisenhall would come around, especially heading into this season, but why? When had he ever given anyone a reason to believe that he could be a legitimate corner infielder in Major Leagues?

Tribe fans weren't the only ones enamored with the Morehead City, NC native. Heading into the 2010 season, Baseball America ranked Chisenhall as the No. 31 prospect in all of baseball. He skyrocketed all the way to No. 25 prior to the 2011 season.

The IBI's Tony Lastoria also offered high praise toward the first round pick. Lastoria ranked him as the team's No. 9 prospect in 2009, No. 2 prospect in 2010 and No. 1 prospect in 2011.

Where did all the admiration come from? Was it the swing? There is no denying that Chisenhall has one of the most beautiful, compact swings in the game.

Yet, a swing is never a good barometer of future success, and there probably should have been warning signs that Chisenhall could be a potential bust when he struggled to make much progress as he moved up the organizational ladder.

Yes, Chisenhall did see his numbers rise at each stop, but he never really seemed to hone in on his two most notable inconsistencies: batting average against left-handed pitchers and plate discipline.

Upon being selected 29th overall in 2008, Chisenhall was assigned to Single-A Mahoning Valley. He played 68 games there that season and was impressive as he posted a .290/.355/.794 line while walking 24 times and striking out just 32 times. He also did okay against left-handers as he hit a very respectable .258. Unfortunately, that's where the positives end for Chisenhall in this regard. Take a look at the graphic below.

Chisenhall continued to progress through the system each year, but the problem is that he made no progress in terms of how he hit left-handers. In fact, he actually struggled more as he made the move from level to level.

Take his 2010 season as an example. For the first time in his minor-league career, Chisenhall was playing extensively at the Double-A level. In fact, he actually ended up staying in Akron for the entire season.

However, while Chisenhall did compile a .278/.351/.450 line, he also hit what was then a career-low .234 against left-handers.

During the next season, Chisenhall made the jump to Triple-A Columbus and then Cleveland. His batting average against left-handers sank to a new low, .224.

Chisenhall saw this number rise slightly in 2012 to .231, but it was hardly what could be described as a noticeable improvement.

Of course, as we all know, Chisenhall continued to struggle in this area this season, which is likely one of the main reasons as to why he finds himself back in Columbus. For some reason, everyone seemed to believe Chisenhall would be okay and finally assert himself as the team's regular starting third baseman. But why?

The numbers above show that Chisenhall has never been able to really improve in his ability to hit lefties, so why would that suddenly change now?

Another major warning sign is the fact that Chisenhall also struggles significantly with plate discipline. During his professional debut with Mahoning Valley, Chisenhall did pretty good in this area as he drew 24 walks and struck out only 32 times. However, take a look at the numbers since.

Much like his ability to hit left-handers, Chisenhall has made little to no progress in the area of plate discipline. He did alright in his 2010 season with Akron as he walked 46 times and struck out 77 times, but he then was right back at it a year later.

In 132 games between the Clippers and Indians, Chisenhall drew 36 walks while striking out 96 times. That type of plate discipline is just startling for a player that is expected to be the everyday third baseman.

So that now brings us back to a previous question. Why, especially when you consider his inability to make corrections in the past, did fans expect Chisenhall to immediately come out this year and assert himself as an everyday player?

Was it because he was previously such a top-heralded prospect? Were even the top baseball pundits off the mark with this one?

It does seem as if it's hard to quantify exactly why Chisenhall was and has been one of the game's top prospects. He had a great debut with Mahoning Valley, but since then, it seems almost unreasonable to project a player like Chisenhall for future success when you consider his splits and (lack of) plate discipline.

Of course, sometimes there is no better way to judge a player than the human eye. So, with that in mind, think back to when, if ever, you've watched Chisenhall play and say, "Man, this guy really has something?"

The first two instances that come to mind are Spring Training 2011 and 2013. Though as most will tell you, Spring Training statistics are essentially meaningless, but Chisenhall's torrid springs are arguably his most memorable moments in his young career with the Indians. Doesn't seem to add up, does it?

In his short career, Chisenhall has provided some minor glimpses, but there was never that ah-hah! moment where it was immediately evident that the Indians had something special.

In comparison, think back to the early careers of former top prospects Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis.

When Santana joined the Indians on June 11, 2010, he started on a tear and hit .345/.458/.707 with nine doubles, four home runs, 15 RBI, 13 walks and just eight strikeouts in his first 18 games. The switch-hitting catcher eventually came down to Earth, but the message was sent: this is a special player.

Jason Kipnis had similar success when he joined the Indians on July 22, 2011. In his first 18 games, Kipnis hit .279/.347/.603 with four doubles, six home runs and 11 RBI. He was most impressive during a four-game stretch from July 31 to August 3 where he hit a home run in every game.

Like Santana, Kipnis eventually came down to Earth, but the message was still clear.

For Chisenhall, there has been no message. We're all still waiting for Chisenhall to officially arrive.

Plenty of excuses can be made, and there are likely still many fans out there willing to buy them. Some will cite his young age while others will claim that he has shown promise, but the facts remain.

And the facts with Lonnie Chisenhall are that he has hit .250/.286/.406 with 23 doubles, 15 home runs, 49 RBI, 19 walks and 98 strikeouts in 135 career Major League games  nearly an entire season of work. Chisenhall has also hit a measly .200 in his Major League career against left-handers.

For the past few years, fans have hoped that Chisenhall would follow in the footsteps of Kipnis and cement himself as the team's next top infielder.

Well, it's now evident that Chisenhall does seem to be following in the footsteps of a former Indians infielder, but it's unfortunately not Kipnis. At this point, a more apt comparison would be first baseman and now failed Major League prospect, Matt LaPorta.

There's still time for Chisenhall to figure it out, but the key to remember is that Chisenhall has really never corrected any of his woes during his Major League career. Why would that suddenly change now?

Tribe fans will obviously continue to hope for the best, and I will too. However, given the circumstances, Indians fans should not hold their breaths. I know I won't.

Steve can be reached via email at

User Comments

May 18, 2013 - 4:58 PM EDT
The ball does jump off his bat. There is no question he has the tools to be a solid hitter. I am thinking he will hit between 260 and 275 with around 20 homers a year when he reaches his potential. I also see alot of doubles and solid defense.

Hes in a weird situation because I think he needs to be more aggressive AND learn not to chase as many pitches. I often see him take a ball down the middle of the plate for the first pitch, get himself behind in the count and then start to chase anything thats close. I am not ready to call him Laporta after 35 games. He did hit 3 homers. I think he will turn it around and be back to help for the streach run.

I think Aviles should 65% of the at bats while Chiz is gone and Giambi to get the rest with Raburn thrown into the mix. Also, they should try to rest guys at DH as much as possible.

gareth harris
May 18, 2013 - 3:06 PM EDT
He needs to learn to take a walk and not reach for pitches. The errors and mental lapses are also a concern. The Laporta comp is a bit harsh. He and Kipnis were linked together as future studs. I think he falls somewhere in the middle of those guys.

May 18, 2013 - 8:05 AM EDT
The reason I like Chisenhall is because the ball jumps off his bat. I seen this numerous times in batting practice before games over the last two years.
May 18, 2013 - 7:34 AM EDT
I don't think Huff is useless. Last night's game went 10 innings and the Indians used six pitchers. If Kipnis had not come through it could have gone several innings longer. They just played 14 games in 13 days. Huff was brought up because they think he can help, not because there's an empty seat on the team bus.
May 18, 2013 - 7:31 AM EDT
He'll never be a good major league hitter until he stops chasing pitches out of the zone and learns to take pitches on the outside corner to left field or up the middle.

He's got a ways to go. Hopefully he'll start working on that and stop trying to pull everything and stop hacking at anything close.
May 18, 2013 - 2:43 AM EDT
This is a really harsh assessment of Chisenhall. Over his last two years, he had an OPS of .716 with 18 home runs and 29 doubles averaged out to a full season. Those numbers aren't as sexy as Kipnis' or Santana's, but I believe it shows he can play in the majors.

Let him regain his confidence in Columbus and come back up for another shot soon. It might not be ideal, but he can platoon with Aviles/Reynolds and just play against righties. He'll need to figure out lefties eventually, but he can certainly help this team this year.
May 17, 2013 - 11:05 PM EDT
I think Lonnie is a AAA player. He looks no better now than 2yrs ago. He has shown nothing on offense or defense to me to show he is a big leaguer.
May 17, 2013 - 10:57 PM EDT
Wow, your really dumping on the kid here. Its not that I don't agree with what you said but you make it seem like he has more time then he should to figure it out and hasn't and is probably a failed MLB player.

I mean lets say you have never watched a baseball game before this year. Even then you would have seen Kipnis go from horrible to awesome and Ubaldo look like has a twin brother who sometimes pitches. I mean I am pretty sure someone wrote an article about Ubaldo had pretty much no chance of ever being a decent pitcher again.

For whatever reason Lonnie was really pressing and just wans't getting it done.I don't think its time to call him Matt Laporta as your article suggests. . So, I am taking this with a major grain of salt.

And I am in favor of the demotion but I still beleieve he can turn it around. Seen enough baseball to realize the road is often bumpy and things don't always happen as we expect them to.

Too much too soon.
Jerry Brenner
May 17, 2013 - 5:30 PM EDT
If one reads past evaluations of other teams' scouts, Chisenhall was the only position player of value in the entire system two years ago. So, why should we have expected this or expect little in the future? He was tearing it up last year before he got hurt and his absence really hurt the team. Please do not not write analysis simply because some numbers are available and an analysis is due.
May 17, 2013 - 5:14 PM EDT
i admit during spring training i was speculating that chiz would be the 3 hole hitter however i was buying the hype. Until 2012 chiz' s best batting average in the minors was .290 at mahoning valley. his minor league numbers are very similar to the scintillating career of Andy Marte another considered blue chip prospect. In 118 ab's chiz hit .314 last year at columbus the first north of 300 he ever had in the minors so maybe demoting him and letting him see if he can draw walks develop his proficiency against southpaws and hit on a percentage and power wise like a blue chipper is supposed to lets see 100 at bats in columbus and see where we are it is only a couple dozen games and if he hits like he should them promote him back to cleveland and see if it transfers to the major leagues.
He was also committing the cardinal sin of letting his offensive woes over to third base that is immaturity and shows how frustrated he is here. I do agree I love that swing and he is gonna eventually hit and i am not in anyway comparing him to andy marte except both brilliant prospects who play 3rd base i do think lonnie has better tools than marte has. Lets hope he makes the necessary adjustments to smooth the transition to the big leagues and go on to a nice career in the big leagues. he has one more option remaining after 2013 and maybe this is his last time in the minors unless injury rehab assignment. But god would i love to see him hit in the high 300's for the next 3 or 4 weeks in columbus.
May 17, 2013 - 3:43 PM EDT
I've already explained this numerous times....there is no concern with getting Carrasco's suspension out of the way. It is a completely different scenario than the last suspension. They can simply call him up, appeal it, and then let him pitch while the appeal process takes a few weeks. At this point the suspension won't be bothered with until maybe around the All Star break and if not then, then maybe not until September. Assuming off course there is no rash of injuries.
May 17, 2013 - 2:55 PM EDT
Rich...who took his place is not irrelevant. They called up a relatively useless player in Huff when they could have used the opportunity to do something that would actually help them later in the year. Huff is basically biding his time here until he's DFA'd. Carrasco has a suspension looming over his head that the Indians could be getting out of the way while Chisenhall is in the minors.
May 17, 2013 - 2:51 PM EDT
I don't have a major issue with Chisenhall being sent down, given that we are in contention and he was the only hole in the lineup. I don't love that it forces Reynolds into the everyday 3B role, and I am hoping it doesn't have an adverse effect on his offensive output, BUT it certainly feels like the best option for a contending team at this point.

That said, I think it's a HUGE jump to even start talking about Laporta comparisons with a 24 year old. That batting average vs. lefties graph? He's had 22 ABs against them in 2013. Give the guy a break. If he continued to hit .230 vs lefties the rest of his career, he could still have a prolific career at the plate. If he settles in as a .260-.270 hitter with 20 HR/year, that would be plenty satisfying, and I still feel that is a modest projection for him at this juncture. He really is only 24 years old. 24. Think about that. 24. Just because you've seen his face more than most 24 year olds doesn't make him any older. If he's still struggling in a year or two, let's talk about it. He'll be out of options, he'll have somebody (Paulino? Urshela?) pushing him, hopefully, and we'll have a bigger issue on our hands. But for now, let's let the kid continue to develop. I'm not ready to label him a quad-A player just yet...

He still has plenty of growth and probably best suited for AAA at present, but if he gets hot down there, I would not hesitate to bring him back up and capitalize on that.
May 17, 2013 - 2:47 PM EDT
Adam, it doesn't matter who took his place. He was getting eaten alive and was a black hole in the lineup - practically an automatic out at a position where you need production. The move was all about taking some pressure off and giving him a chance to work on his plate discipline. Who took his spot on the roster is irrelevant.

And Chiz was not hitting right-handed pitching. Reynolds is actually hitting right-handers better than lefties, so it makes sense to put him at 3rd against right-handers.
May 17, 2013 - 2:43 PM EDT
Chisenhall has walked only 19 times in 478 major league plate appearances - less than one walk for every 25 PA's. That pretty much tells the story right there. He swings at way too many bad or marginal pitches and gets himself out consistently.

Until he develops better patience and plate discipline he's got no chance to hit at the level he needs to in order to be an everyday corner infielder.

It's not like he has such a great swing that he can hit line drives on bad pitches.

The one thing he has going for him besides the nice swing is time. At his age Kipnis was just making his first appearance in the majors. But if Chiz wants to make it in the bigs he has to become ruthless in his plate discipline and refuse to swing at anything that's on the edges or out of the zone.
May 17, 2013 - 2:38 PM EDT
Yeah personally I think the best bet would've been to limit him to facing right handed pitching for the time being, in order to get him going offensively. Let Reynolds or Aviles play third when there's a lefty on the mound. That would allow Aviles to still get some time at short and 2B while Reynolds plays a position he is much better suited for, either 1B or DH.

If we were upgrading the roster in a meaningful way by demoting Chisenhall, it would make sense...but we called up David Huff to take Chisenhall's roster spot. Honestly, it would've made more sense to call up Carlos Carrasco and get his suspension out of the way rather than calling up Huff for mop up duty.
May 17, 2013 - 1:13 PM EDT
I think the BB/K table would make more sense, and probably demonstrate the "reasons for optimism" if it gave the percentages. Chisenhall's minor league walk rates were 7.9%, 8.6%, 6.9%, 8.8% and 9.6% from 2008-2011. Those are solid rates, and don't really indicate a major plate discipline problem. 2012 and 2013 his rates were much lower but the samples are small enough to be meaningless. His near total lack of walks in the majors is pretty inexplicable. He seems to have a programming defect where he must swing at any curveball no matter how low and inside it is. His biggest problem this year though was just the lack of solid contact. Still think they should've given him another month.

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