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Trend Spotting: Chisenhall’s struggles and Ramirez’s climb

Trend Spotting: Chisenhall’s struggles and Ramirez’s climb
August 29, 2013
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Lost amidst the substandard performance of Asdrubal Cabrera, the mercurial stay of Mark Reynolds, and the mildly subpar performances of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, the struggles that Lonnie Chisenhall has had in his second stint with the Indians this year have been passed by.

Of course, though, we currently dream of mediocre production at third base, and Chisenhall still has a higher WAR value than Asdrubal over the season to date. Though comparing such minute WAR totals is a somewhat irrational and maybe even irresponsible task as it shows the absolute incompetence offered by the left side of the infield to this point.

Returning to Chisenhall and his age 24 season; one humorous thing occurs when discussing the bottom of the order  which is the highlighting of Drew Stubbs' exceptionally high strikeout rate. A simple beginning statistic that may paint a picture of Chisenhall's struggles is that of Stubbs' OBP which now sits over 45 points higher than Chisenhall's.  Unfortunately, Chisenhall’s lack of OBP is not because of impressive power numbers or another advanced skill but a signal of his comprehensive struggles.

So we are at a perplexing crossroads with Chisenhall, coupling together a few different factors. First, that he is only twenty-four and making long term judgments at this point is challenging. Second, that this is his third opportunity to establish himself with the Tribe. Last, third base is a black hole currently for a team attempting to compete for division titles over the next few years.

Digressing to his current performance we will take a look at a few outliers or indicators that may provide us with some sort of insight as to what should be done with the underachieving, poor facial hair growing third baseman.

The first number that pops out when considering Chisenhall is his .246 BABIP. Chisenhall’s BABIP ranks 297th among players with over 200 plate appearances this season. Indeed he is among the bottom 5% of those meeting my 200 plate appearance requirement.  Prior to this season, Chisenhall’s BABIP with the Tribe sat at around .300 not far above from the Major League average.

So the question becomes, what is the main factor for his decline, and how dominant of a role has BABIP played in Lonnie’s struggles relative to other negative indicators.

Season

BABIP

LD%

FB%

BB%

2011

0.299

19.5

42.1

3.60%

2012

0.300

25.2

32.2

5.30%

2013

0.246

21.1

39.2

5.00%

(Note Chisenhall’s longest exposure to MLB is only a 260 plate appearance sample, all of them hovering around the point where the batted ball profile stabilizes. Also of note is that Lonnie’s minor league BABIP hovers a tick above .300 for his minor league career; although he has been prone to extreme BABIP variance over the course of his development.)

The heart of the matter is this, Lonnie’s overall average has disappointed for two reasons: strikeout rate and a deflated BABIP.

The BABIP is deflated for a few reasons some explainable, some not. First the explainable ones or at least something to that extent. A small piece includes luck, which is not something particularly shocking considering the sample size.

Using career to date numbers, Chisenhall has hit .725 on lines drives which is not an unsustainable mark. This season, Chisenhall is hitting .610 on line drives, a number that one would reasonably expect to regress back towards career average.

In fact, Chisenhall has even seen a mild but noticeable shift downwards in BABIP on groundballs.

One thing is obvious, being that some of Chisenhall’s struggles are based on being somewhat unlucky in a still reasonably small sample.  Thus, expecting some improvement is not an entirely irrational assumption. However, even if we make some modest adjustments and/or assumptions of a BABIP shift, we are still left with concern regarding Chisenhall.

So let’s play with his numbers a little bit, assuming a BABIP of .295 for a season we could project an average of around .245-.255. Which lifts his OBP to around .300, then projecting power based on current output we have a 13-16 home run guy. (Over the course of a full season.)

These are all fair or tending towards optimistic projections, which is absolutely scary. Especially when including the fact that he is a mediocre defender whose plate discipline has improved marginally at best over his development to date.  Of course that ignores two additional factors worth considering.

The first being that, yes, Chisenhall is only playing in his age 24 season, so maturation and improvement is possible. However, there are not a lot of positive indicators of adjusting to major league pitching so far.

Second those projections are excessively optimistic because he has to be hidden against left handed pitching. No, this is not based on this season alone but rather his track record against lefties. Of course he probably deserves more at bats and opportunities against southpaws but he would have to improve vastly to even be considered average against left handed pitching.

Which puts us where?

Well, when your optimistic production for a player like Chisenhall is as pedestrian as what is seen above, you must consider all your options.

The Indians have a window, a finite opportunity. Perhaps Danny SalazarCorey Kluber and Zach McAllister make it longer than one would expect but third base remains a major piece of the puzzle moving forward.  I am not arguing for a free agent addition because the market is somewhat bare at third; however, a good front office always searches for positive arbitrage and marginal value improvements.

Barring a legitimate step forward from Chisenhall, improving at third base or at least adding value could have significant impact on their ability to contend long term.

The rise of Jose Ramirez

For the sake of brevity and avoiding a step beyond my capacity, I will render a few limited thoughts about Jose Ramirez.

  • Jose Ramirez would legitimately add defensive and base running value (38 steals with a 71% success rate) to the Tribe if added as a September call-up.
  • Jose’s offensive maturity and approach for a twenty year old in a pitchers league are absolutely astounding (Nearly neutral K/BB rate with his K-rate sitting at 7.7%).
  • Ramirez is hitting .274 with a .326 OBP, with a BABIP that is 60 points below his previous three stops. One would expect an increase based on his prior success and the role his speed plays in his BABIP.

Perhaps the Tribe waits on Ramirez, and that is probably a rationally founded decision, but this guy is really close to being ready. His offensive maturity is shocking and as exciting as many Tribe farm hands are, Ramirez is one that excites me the most.

A few things that may only interest me:

  • Michael Bourn’s UZR in 2012: 23.3. In the 2013 season to date: 2.4 (Can fluctuate and should be judged over multiple seasons, but a huge variation between the two years).
  • Ubaldo Jimenez average fastball velocity: 92 MPH. Scott Kazmir average fastball velocity 92.2 MPH. 
  • Michael Brantley 7.1% walk rate. Drew Stubbs 8.7% walk rate. (Of course the strikeout rate difference is pretty vast but still a surprising comparison to me.) 
  • Drew Stubbs has outperformed the following right fielders according to WAR this season: Aoki, Hamilton, Nava and Markakis.

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

User Comments

Michael Hattery
August 30, 2013 - 12:10 AM EDT
Absolutely, I was attempting to highlight the large variation that occurs in UZR as much as a decrease in actual abilities. Although his decreased rate of stolen bases and stolen base efficiency may reflect a marginal decrease in speed, which could make at least part of his UZR decrease legitimate. Parsing that out, however, is a challenge and speaks to the flaws of UZR.
Joey
August 29, 2013 - 11:33 PM EDT
Advanced defensive statistics are always a gray area, just watching Bourn's performance attests to his abilities.
Rich D
August 29, 2013 - 6:01 PM EDT
How can Bourn's UZR have dropped from 23.3 to 2.4 in one season? He clearly hasn't lost any speed. The amount of ground an outfielder covers should not vary much if any from year to year until he gets older and starts slowing down or unless he's playing hurt.

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