Hawk Harrelson was in midseason form during last Monday’s White Sox broadcast. He’d already talked with reverence for Ted Williams and praised Micah Johnson’s ability to drop to one knee and make a throw to first after the pick. Or something. It was a game rife with “Hawkisms” covering the finer points of the game he’s such a student of, and which may or may not be made up.
One stuck with me though. He was talking about Lonnie Chisenhall, going at length about his swing and his streakiness and his fine half of a 2014 season and how he thought Lonnie could be very good in the future–if he’s given the chance. It was a nice comment by the most homerish of baseball men when normally he’s busy complimenting how well Gordon Beckham goes back and to the right on pop flies better than anyone in the league. I do like to think he catalogs this stuff in a big book and it’ll be released like classified CIA documents in 50 years. Then we’ll know who was truly great.
His praise of Lonnie was comforting in this tough early going for both the player and the team, and even if he’s crazy sometimes it’s good to listen to Hawk – he’s seen a lot of baseball. It’s got to count for something, it just takes some sifting through the chaff to find those nuggets of truth.
Chisenhall was at one point a very highly touted prospect in the system, topping 25th on Baseball America’s 2011. He has yet to have realized his potential with the Indians but he’s given glimpses – a torrid first half of last season where he racked a .915 OPS that included three homers on a June night in Texas. His .371 BABIP was plainly unsustainable, but the whole stretch was a hint of the ability Chisenhall could tap. He’s got a truly stupendous swing, a thing of beauty really, and when he’s (albeit rarely) cooking, an ability to work it to all fields. If he can harness his potential that is. He isn’t hitting yet this year, but if anyone even considers moving on from a guy who just turned 26, they need their heads examined, especially in April. The entire backbone of the Cleveland Indians roster is guys who needed a couple shots to make it in the bigs. From Lonnie to Carlos Carrasco to even Corey Kluber who had to wait a long time before his time in the sun, patience with the 2015 Cleveland Indians must be demanded.
We don’t want to be patient. We want to win. Most of us who keep up with the Tribe are fans, or else anthropologists studying self-harm and auto-emotional abuse in Rust Belt cities. The season has not started off how any of us wanted it to go, a losing record and getting swept by the Tigers while Detroit and the Kansas City Royals both go on excellent runs to start the year. It’s an early hole and it’s going to take some digging to get out of even if that doesn’t make sense on the face of it. The offense looks like it’s got a blood disease, the bullpen seems to have stolen the Tigers’ magic misery powers, the defense is a horror show most days and Yan Gomes hurt his knee. Plus Carrasco got hit in the face. It’s a big horrible bummer and if anyone actually got paper copies of Sports Illustrated anymore, the entire 216 area code would have canceled their subscriptions.
When will the worm turn for the Indians? When will Chiz get good? And for how long? These are the things we don’t know, just like we don’t know, but we hope, that last year wasn’t one of those strange fluke years for Michael Brantley that baseball is rife with. Guys like Luis Gonzalez and his 50 homer year or then-Fausto Carmona and his brilliant 2007 or Bill Mueller in 2003 where he won a batting title. His approach at the plate lends Chiz to a long run of incredible offensive output for bursts, it’s just about keeping those bursts… bursty. There’s something tasty about how he swings the bat, even when he chases a diving slider. If only looks mattered more. He might get real good for a few years, or whither on the vine. Baseball can surprise you. If Jose Bautista is any indication, it rewards perseverance.
The entirety of the Indians’ rotation is a collection perseverance and “wait and see” guys. Carrasco’s struggles are well chronicled, and he’s finally put it together after being perceived as a headhunting hothead who would wash out in months. Until he grew up, caught up mentally and emotionally to his vast physical gifts and became great. We see it in the NBA all the time, right Hassan Whiteside? Corey Kluber went from a decent prospect arm to a nice middle of the rotation guy to best in the league so quickly it made heads spin and writers suspicious of some sort of elaborate ruse. But unlike some other great stars who hit like lightning bolts, the Felix Hernandezes or Jose Fernandezes or Mike Trouts of the world, it took him till he was winking at 30 before he found himself, figured out what worked and took the league by storm. You know what that means? Team control, a mature player with a head on his shoulders and a real strong beard game. Kind of the opposite of what’s going on in Kansas City, especially that beard thing. It’s traumatizing, like they’re teenyboppers emulating their college-age brother who won’t move out of the basement.
Apr 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Bauer is going to be a subtle hell for fans and coaches to just deal with. He knows more about the kinesiology of pitching than anyone his age has a right to, and will let you know it. He probably uses a word Mickey Callaway doesn’t know once a day. He’s already soured one franchise though Arizona’s shortsightedness has doomed them to the barrens of 70-win Land for years. That kid might have the most talent and brains on the staff with his seven or eight pitches or whatever he says and engineer’s approach to pitching preparation, and if he’s allowed to grow into himself he could be the best of the bunch. I’m thinking good enough to bring couple more Cy Youngs to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. In his case, the biggest problem is the walks, but he doesn’t let anyone hit the ball so really he’s better off. Psychologically I’d figure a walk is less pleasing to a hitter than a base knock. Plus walks don’t allow for going first to third. They can tend to cut his outings short but six innings of four baserunner, seven strikeout balls acceptable to me if it comes to that.
It’s not just the pitching. It’s not just the hope of Chisenhall and his ilk. The best hitter in the lineup, Michael Brantley, was literally the most average player in baseball for years before he figured it out. Worth 2 WAR every season, OPS+ hovering right at 100 every year and a decent if unspectacular glove in left. He doesn’t make errors, which is nice. All he did was make contact and not much else, but he’s gotten around to putting some power behind those swings and it’s translated to MVP votes. It took a while, and as he worked at it nobody in the world thought he’d be anything better than a role player and a name even Cleveland Indians fans barely remember. He was a throw-in on the Sabathia deal too, as was Yan Gomes when they got Mike Aviles. Yan turned into maybe the best catcher in the league, depending on who you talk to. These are guys who had no track record and turned into stars, so a guy like Brandon Moss struggling isn’t a problem with me. He’ll get his bombs.
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The season is long and can drag, and lots of fans were super excited from all the preseason hype so the state of the team right now makes for a huge bummer. It’s only April but seeing your team in fourth place is discouraging no matter the month, and no matter how quickly it can turn around. There have been flickers and tickles of what the team can become, from the return to form of Carrasco a week after he’d taken a ball to the head or the unspeakable power coming from the diminutive right-hander Salazar.
This much good pitching will pan out, and so will these guys giving us so much stress at the plate That bomb show Brandon Moss demonstrated in Detroit fulfilled some deep desires, and more is coming. If anything, the best is in the future when the second wave of farmhands come give us all a fresh drip of hope to our aching veins. Patience is the worst thing in the world, it denies me the delight of instant gratification, but I have a feeling the Indians are going to pay us back in time.