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Trend Spotting: Black holes and expectations at third base

Trend Spotting: Black holes and expectations at third base
June 15, 2013
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Basking in the Indians third consecutive win, a quick rebound from an absolutely horrendous stretch, the Indians peak and valley tendencies have shown their ugly head. And as with many streaks, when it rained it poured, something which we can actually see manifested statistically in BABIP.

Over the last fourteen games the Tribe’s offense posted a BABIP of .275 (23rd in baseball over that stretch) and their BABIP so far this season is .305. In terms of pitching, the gap is an equally daunting BABIP against at .307 over the last fourteen games.

While many pieces of the Indians losing streak were just pure bad performance, there were a few signs that showed that they just could not get a break. In a way BABIP served to add some quantification. A lot of times you can see these sort of deflation/inflation’s in BABIP. Anecdotally, it was pretty obvious during Nick Swisher’s recent o-fer that it was more driven by an unlucky limited sample than a collection of below average at bats.

Digressing, while for now we are through the dark tunnel which was early June, that does not mean we should entirely ignore the truly eye popping flaws that surfaced. While a multitude of Indians position players struggled, a few pieces were particularly concerning. The pieces most distressing: Left-handed relief, the back-end of the bullpen, and third base.

Many writers and fans have adequately addressed the Indians relief struggles, particularly those of alliterative lefties Hill and Hagadone, so I will leave that part alone. However, third base over the last month has been somewhat of a black hole.

The struggles at third base as putrid as they are (-0.3 WAR over the last 30 days) derive from a few different things. The first issue was Chisenhall’s early struggles; no matter your opinion about the demotion some obvious effects including decreased defensive production became inevitable.

Second was the leg injury to shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera. The injury caused Mike Aviles, a semi-competent defender at third, to start daily at short thus causing Reynolds to start five to seven times a week at the hot corner. While Reynolds in one or two game stints at third looks playable, it takes but a few weeks to understand what an absolute liability he is defensively.

Reynolds UZR/150 - ultimate zone rating projected over a hundred and fifty games - has him at -29.4 at third base. Now, anything below -5 is sub-average and anything past -10 on the scale is bad. What we have from Reynolds right now projects as nothing better than heinous.

Indeed, the last few weeks we have witnessed a magnification of every one of Mark’s warts as a player.

In ten games in June, Mark Reynolds has five hits in forty plate appearances coupled with 16 strikeouts. Which means that he has struck out in 40% of his plate appearances.

This is merely the book on Reynolds, but even though every fan knows he is a player prone to high peaks and low valleys, the last month has been bordering on intolerable. (As a side note I enjoy that as soon as Reynolds starts slumping all you hear is about the length of his swing and his overly-aggressive hacks.)

A few interesting splits on Mark Reynolds:

Playing 1B.313, 5 HR, 23 RBI
Playing 3B: .1734 HR, 6 RBI
Playing DH: .261, 4 HR, 12 RBI

Many splits can be deceiving and linking causality is a struggle, but his production, or lack thereof, is telling. In the past, former manager Hargrove talked about how when Jim Thome shifted across the diamond to first the game became simpler and more comfortable for him. Perhaps a shift to a position where Reynolds was comfortable would be a relief.

In reality, it is hard to establish whether or not Reynolds' offensive struggles are at all linked to his time at third or whether small sample size just causes them to overlap. In the case of Mark, it seems like it wouldn’t hurt to try moving him back to just an emergency or one day a week third baseman.

Then comes the question of who plays third, and yes the answer is pretty simple, and no it is not John McDonaldLonnie Chisenhall has been absolutely torching Triple-A pitching in Columbus, and even though he has struggled throwing the ball his average defense alone would be hugely valuable at third base for the Indians.

The other reason Chiz needs to return is for his bat.  No matter how crazy that sounds after his first stint I don’t care. I am not a fan of continuing opportunities for former top flight prospects who struggle to produce; however, I thought his demotion this season was unnecessarily abrupt.

Lonnie’s BABIP was forty points below his career average and his HR/FB was mediocre. Combine the BABIP issues with a relatively stable batted ball profile and you have a guy who probably had the plug pulled too soon.

Another piece to consider is Lonnie’s time at Columbus and his overall discipline at the plate. Walk rate is something that one checks almost immediately when looking at Lonnie and since his demotion he has taken it quite seriously walking at a rate of 10%, unheard of for Lonnie. K% is also decreased and although it is Columbus, any improvements Chisenhall makes in this department are indeed necessary.

While I do not think Chisenhall is particularly special or high impact, he can help this team right now, whether it is moving Mark the liability off third or just adding good platoon production.  The sooner the Indians call up Chiz the better.

Lastly, I must apologize for the lack of data tables included in this piece as it perturbs me as much as anyone who languishes their way through my columns. Unfortunately, I am stuck having to battle the death of my hotel WiFi which has made data collection near impossible and thus for this week Trend Spotting has been limited by first world problems.

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

hawk1228
June 15, 2013 - 2:03 PM EDT
I did some of this earlier this week
Swisher and Reynolds

Swisher before the pitch thrown at his head by Chapman
273 BA 370 OBP
490 SLug% 867 OPS 7 home runs

Swisher since that pitch 125 BA 234 OBP 143 Slugg%
377 OPS 0 home runs

Reynolds with Chisenhall ( thru may 12) 291 BA 372 OBP
634 Slug% 996 OPS
11 home runs 32 rbis

Reynolds since Chisenhall demotion ( may 13th thru today)
173 BA 246 OBP 240 Slug%
486 OPS 2 home runs 10 rbis
Tom Meehan
June 15, 2013 - 12:21 PM EDT
I have no doubt that Lonnie Chisenhall wants to be a major leaguer. He has responded by as you said, torching up minor league pitching. However, the question is whether or not he really is ever going to produce as major leaguer. So far, he has not and I have my doubts that he ever will. Nonetheless, I'd give him another chance, especially while he's hot. As I said, I jjust don't think he's the guy.

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