Lonnie Baseball Progresses Despite Inconsistency
When the Indians convened for Spring Training before the 2014 season, Lonnie Chisenhall had competition at third base for the first time since 2012. Chisenhall had been handed the starting job in 2013, only to struggle throughout the season both at the dish and fielding the hot corner. Carlos Santana was poised to cement himself as the third baseman of the future, ultimately beating out Chisenhall, leaving him in a utility role.
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It seems losing his starting job was exactly what Chisenhall needed to get himself on track and perform at the Major League level. Chisenhall came out of the gates sizzling, hitting everything that came his way and forcing himself into the lineup on a nightly basis.
By the time the All-Star break rolled around, Chisenhall was being considered for the AL squad, crushing nine homers and driving in 46 runs while slashing .332/.396/.519 and compiling a .915 OPS. Though he was ultimately snubbed, Chisenhall finally seemed to be emerging as a star for the Tribe.
The peak of Lonnie Baseball’s surge came June 10 against Texas. Chiz had a historic night, clubbing three monster homers with a team record 9 RBI . In total, Chisenhall went 5-for-5 with three homers, a double and a single, driving in at least a run with each of his five hits. Since 1914, only three other players had ever recorded five or more hits, three or more homers and nine or more RBI in the same game. It was a historic night for Chiz and what many identified as his coming out party. Chisenhall looked like a star in the making, the third baseman the Indians had long awaited.
As most players do after hot stretches, Chisenhall cooled off considerably at the dish following the All-Star break. Chisenhall hit .362 in April, .373 in May, and .311 in June before finishing with averages of .209, .250, and .219 in July, August and September respectively. Chisenhall’s second half splits were .218/.277/.315, his OBP among the worst in baseball for regular starters. Only four of his 13 homers and 18 of his 59 RBI came after the break
On the defensive side, Chisenhall continued to struggle fielding his position, committing 19 errors with -1.4 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement). His .931 fielding percentage was well below average at third. It may be time for the Indians to consider moving Chisenhall to the outfield, as was done with Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals. Gordon has developed into one of the premier defensive outfielders in the game, and his offense has only improved since he left the infield. Chisenhall could benefit from a similar change, though it would be a challenge given the Indians’ logjam in the outfield. Giovanny Urshela has performed tremendously at third for the Columbus Clippers, and he seems poised to make a push for a roster spot come Spring Training. His defensive play is sterling, and he managed to club 13 homers in AAA this season.
Another avenue the Indians may explore is the trade market for Chisenhall. Given his defensive inconsistency and his second half offensive attrition, there may be reason to doubt that he is the third baseman of the future. If the outfield is too crowded for him to change positions, the Indians may be able to receive value for him coming off his best season as a pro. His 1.9 WAR, promising swing, and years of team control could be incredibly appealing to a team in need of a third baseman, and there are plenty of holes the Indians could fill with a good player in return.
All things considered, 2014 was a tremendous leap forward for Chisenhall. He seems more confident in his ability to perform at the Major League level, and he has shown the potential to be a key asset as well as a fan favorite. Whether that translates to front office commitment to Lonnie Baseball long term at the third base position remains to be seen.
Statistics via Fangraphs
To read more on the 2014 Cleveland Indians offense, click here.