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Trend Spotting: Breaking down Chisenhall & Santana's start

Trend Spotting: Breaking down Chisenhall & Santana's start
May 4, 2013
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In Trend Spotting, I will be looking at current Indians performances and some of the peripheral statistics in order to see if they can provide any insight into whether good or bad performances are likely to continue.

To this point in the season the Indians as a team have had a total of 977 plate appearances so our lack of sample size on each player definitely has an impact. What I am assessing will be early trends and whether a player’s production has been inflated or deflated since the beginning of the season. I have selected two players and key statistics to consider that may have influenced their production to date or that could be signals of things to come.

Lonnie ChisenhallPerhaps the only Indian so far who has drawn as much derision and concern as Chisenhall has been fellow infielder Jason Kipnis. This stems from a few different things: the first being that Mike Aviles has been productive in relatively limited time. Tthis bench, though early in the season, has been superb. The versatility and production has kept this team around .500 as they have faced a few minor injuries and unlike last year were not forced to play guys like Jason DonaldJose Lopez or the recently DFA’d Shelley Duncan whose replacement values are terrible.

The second reason is because going into this season our optimism surrounding Chisenhall had become a little audacious.  Cleveland fans - including myself - were reading too much into a strong spring in order to believe that Chisenhall was finally going to be the guy we thought he could become when he was a prospect.

I read many a Cleveland message board tossing around the idea that he would quickly move up the lineup, some suggesting as high as third. The depth of this lineup is vastly improved if even a minor uptick can be found from Lonnie Chisenhall’s spot and I think with the occasional Aviles platoon improved production will come from third base.

Year Plate Appearances BABIP O-Swing% Line Drive %
2011 223 .299 42.30% 19.50%
2012 151 .300 38.30% 25.20%
2013 75 .255 31.40% 18.50%

* BABIP - Batting average on balls in play
* O-Swing% - percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the zone
* Line drive percentage stabilizes, statistically, at somewhere between 200-250 plate appearances

The obvious challenge with projecting Chisenhall is that as you can see from his plate appearances we don’t have a large enough sample to use his past experience as a production baseline. However, I can tell you that his minor-league BABIP is in line with or a little higher than that of his first two big-league seasons. Even with its limits, this data does have some things to offer.

First is that if his line-drive % stabilizes or increases a minimal one percent that would mean that an increase in BABIP would be incredibly likely, and not minimal, perhaps a 15-20 point increase would be conservative. That sort of increase projected over the rest of the season, would make it is easy to see Chisenhall finish at around .245-250 with 15-18 homeruns. This includes projecting that his HR/FB rate which has been inflated so far this season will decrease.

I think in Chisenhall’s case we have all been struggling with confirmation bias, being that we highlight his plate discipline as the reason why he struggles when he struggles. And if you just look at his strikeout-walk ratio it is easily justified.

However, his O-Swing% changes are positive and perhaps cause issues for the assumption about Chisenhall’s plate discipline being the key issues so far. This would be a second consecutive season of improvement for Chiz, and this statistic should stabilize with a slight shift to either side over the rest of the season. O-Swing% will always be a statistic worth monitoring for the lefty and hopefully its positive gains will start to effect his overall production.

Chisenhall’s plate discipline has been an issue, but I would expect his average and walk rate to increase over the next month. I am not exonerating Chisenhall, or arguing that he can be some sort of monster offensively, merely that his peripherals suggest some improvement. I also do hope they play Aviles heavily against left-handed pitching at least until Chisenhall begins to show more comfort against southpaws. Most importantly, be patient. His BABIP is suffering partially from the size of the sample so don’t jump ship on Lonnie just yet.

Carlos SantanaThe last month, Santana has been an absolute joy to watch offensively as he has been rifling balls at a nearly unmatched pace. Many said before the season, to which I agree, that if this team is going to compete, Santana needs to play like a star. I am not talking about a Swisher or Cabrera, complimentary all-star type production, I am talking 5.5 to 7.0 WAR production. Carlos is truly the only real “Super Star” level talent on this roster so his maturation to that point is essential.

Santana has huge offensive upside and his production for a catcher isn’t anything but elite. However, Carlos has been known to be incredibly streaky, maybe not Mark Reynolds streaky, but his hot spells are almost comparable. Which is why, this first month of production is hard to discern in terms about what it means for Santana.

Year BABIP HR/Fly Ball Infield Hit %
2010 0.277 11.10% 7.00%
2011 0.263 16.00% 1.60%
2012 0.278 11.50% 7.30%
2013 0.455 22.70% 12.00%

While BABIP often has a large collection of factors that contribute to it being inflated or deflated, in this case it is pretty obvious that Santana is in for some legitimate regression. Santana’s line-drive percentage has not shifted off last year's, and is pretty much in line with career output. Infield hit % may seem ubiquitous or whimsical but in reality it shows us that Santana’s start cannot be maintained. In fact Santana has yet to hit an infield popup, which shows the sort of limited data we have at this point. While some regression is due to occur there may be some positives.

Positive in that from the eye test his execution when he is ahead in counts has been tremendous. Santana has consistently gotten ahead in counts and made quality contact on pitches that he is looking for. This was a struggle for him in the past as he would put wild swings on bad pitches when he had the advantage. And his ability to square it up more frequently could be a combination of an improved approach and a bit of luck.

Returning to the table and HR/Fly Ball, I actually think his current HR/FB is not as large of an outlier as it appears on first glance, partially because I believe 2012 is almost as much of an outlier as this year’s start. Last season, Santana’s power and overall production was affected by a few different things. His concussion seemed to linger and his production prior to the all-star break reflected a guy who came back too quickly and was tasked with carrying an empty lineup. I think his peak seasons HR/FB rate will average somewhere around 15%-17%.

Santana is going to hit a valley at some point this season and will inevitably regress but I also think he is legitimately improved. Santana is experiencing the famed age 27 season, a year often credited with a jump forward for young players. Santana looks like he is ready to take the step forward to a .270-280 AVG /24-28 homerun /.390 OBP type player and maybe a little more. That sort of production is enough to anchor or be an anchor of a contending lineup for the next few years.

Lastly, a few stats that may only interest me:

  • The Indians position players have the second highest WAR of the young season at 6.2. (The sizzling Red Sox lead the league.)
  • The Indians are tenth in the league in run differential after the month of April at +17.
  • The BABIP against the Indians starting rotation is the second lowest in the league at .267.
  • The Bullpen Mafia posted the fifth lowest E.R.A. in MLB as well as a 9.60 K/9 rate.
  • Esmil Rogers WAR (0.0)
    • WAR between Aviles and Gomes= .4
    • Small sample but the “small deals” of the offseason have had a tangible impact.

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

User Comments

Bob
May 5, 2013 - 9:41 AM EDT
Nice job with this. I always love when something is broken down such as this in an objective manner. I believe Chisenhall is bound for a bump in his performance and he is at least a league average player by the end of the year. Santana is in the midst of a breakout season.
yourtribe
May 4, 2013 - 6:59 PM EDT
not a big lonnie fan as I've said before.

hope I'm very wrong though and I know he's young. we shall see.
shy
May 4, 2013 - 1:15 PM EDT
Well Michael- that is pretty darned scholarly! Good mix of new metrics and old school context. I think one of the reasons Santana is doing so well out of the gate is the rest of the lineup performing so well, pitchers, not to mention coaches and fans really can't focus on him and I think he is more relaxed at the plate and able to do his thing. He's always had tremendous hand/eye coordination, it's just been a matter of quieting the extraneous voices. I watch Pablo Sandoval out here- same deal. If you try to convince the guy not to swing at balls at his neck or ankles you take a part of who he is and what makes him great away, and the overall game suffers. I think they should let Chiz play everyday and play his game as well, although how you do it w Reynolds and Aviles playing so well I can't figure out. He also has tremendous hand//eye and bat speed- it's just a matter of reps and feeling comfortable with who he is. Ryan Raburn is the same way and now look what he is doing when they just wind him up and let him go. For that matter we're seeing dramatic improvements in contact with Reynolds and Stubbs largely because they are relaxed and not thinking too much, It certainly helps when you have a critical mass of guys that are hitting and taking the pressure off. So many guys are doing well now, it's hard to find spots for all of them everyday. I mean 5 straight without Swisher, what do you do when he comes back. I am glad we have Francona, if anybody can juggle it and keep the party jumping, he's the dude.

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