Cleveland Indians Need to Recall Lonnie Chisenhall
This may sound like an odd statement giving how much Lonnie Chisenhall struggled with the Cleveland Indians earlier in the year. I mean, he’s only been in Triple-A a little over two weeks now. In addition, his replacement, Giovanny Urshela, hasn’t been half bad. So why call up Chisenhall right now? Answer: Minor League Options
If you think this plea from me sounds a bit familiar, you’d be correct. I stated the same thing a few weeks ago about T.J. House. The Indians of course did not call up House and he will now be out of minor league options for the 2016 season. Chisenhall was optioned to Columbus on June 8th, meaning tomorrow, June 27th will be the 20th day he’ll have been on a minor league optional assignment this season. If come Sunday he’s still in Triple-A, he’ll be out of minor league options and must be on the Cleveland Indians’ 2016 Opening Day roster or cut/traded before then.
While I was in favor of calling up House, there were clear reasons to not call him up. For one, he wasn’t pitching all that well for the Clippers and pitched very poorly in Cleveland before hitting the disabled list. Shaun Marcum had also pitched well as a starter and the bullpen was doing fine. I did suggest that House could help out in the bullpen, alleviating some of the workload on guys like Nick Hagadone and Marc Rzepczynski. At the end of the day, there was a very strong case for not calling up House before his 20-day window passed. However, with Chisenhall the case against calling him up seems a lot less concrete.
Unlike House, Chisenhall has been playing very well for the Columbus Clippers. In 14 games (63 plate appearances), he’s batting .321/.397/.518 with 2 HR, 11 RBI, and a 168 wRC+. Hell, he’s even added a stolen base to the mix. Maybe even more impressive has been his 9.5% walk rate. Yes, 14 games is a very small sample size, and at the end of the day it is Triple-A pitching he’s destroying. This also isn’t the first time Chisenhall has really dominated at Triple-A. In 2013 (his last stint there), he batted .390/.456/.676 in 27 games and 125 plate appearances. Quite simply, Chisenhall is just too good a hitter for the Triple-A level and he’s proving that once again.
Is Chisenhall a “Quad-A” Player?
The term “Quad-A” player is one used to describe players that are seemingly too good for Triple-A but for whatever reason can never put it together at the big league level. To many, this would appear to describe Chisenhall perfectly. However, I personally think this is a tad harsh as his is career numbers in the major leagues really aren’t that terrible (397 games, 298 at-bats):
".253 AVG, .300 OBP, .408 SLG, 98 wRC+, 40 Home Runs, 75 Doubles"
Those numbers are far from eye-popping but also not that far off from being league average offensive numbers. Sure, we all have expected more out of the former 1st round pick and top prospect so disappointment in those numbers is more than warranted. This is especially true when you factor in his defense which has been below average for his career at third base: -14.5 UZR, -6 DRS and -14 TZ. When all is said and done in parts of five big league seasons Chisenhall has amassed just a 4.8 rWAR and 3.5 fWAR.
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Now granted, those five seasons were all partial seasons save for his breakout 2014 season. In fact, 397 games comes out to just under two and a half full big league seasons. In fact, his 162 game averages would include 16 home runs and 31 doubles. So is Quad-A truly accurate? In my opinion no, at least not yet, though I can definitely see why many would want to put that label on him.
So Why Call Him Up?
I’ve already mentioned one big reason to call up Chisenhall now: his pending loss of his final minor league option. Even if one doesn’t believe Chisenhall is a core member of the Cleveland Indians and his future lies elsewhere, avoiding that option loss is something the Indians will want to think long and hard on. Consider that if you’re a team looking to possibly trade for Chisenhall this summer. Wouldn’t he look a lot more attractive if you knew he had a minor league option to fall back on in 2016? And it’s not like seeing him rake against Triple-A pitching any more is really going to change what other teams think of him. They too have seen him do that, what they need to see is if he can rebound and hit again at the big league level.
Another reason to call up Chisenhall is to quite simply help the big league team in Cleveland. The Indians currently have only a 3-man bench while carrying eight relievers. Adding Chisenhall would at worst give manager Terry Francona an extra pinch hitter/pinch runner to use late in games, or allow him to possibly pinch hit for a rookie like Urshela late in the game knowing he’s got a backup third baseman on the roster.
And while Urshela has played reasonably well for a rookie, he himself hasn’t exactly tore the cover off the ball. Extremely small sample size (only 14 games and 48 plate appearances), but he’s only got an 82 wRC+ himself with the Indians. Yes, that’s a big step up from the 60 wRC+ that Chisenhall posted in Cleveland but it’s still well below average. Urshela can still play most days at third, but giving him a day off against a tough right-handed pitcher may not be the worst thing as he gets acclimated to the big league level. Let Chisenhall play 3-4 games a week between third base and designated hitter, while also giving you one more bench bat could be a boost to this club. Given how poor his BABIP was before being sent down (a mere .231), it shouldn’t be that unrealistic to think he will hit better in the second half.
Even if one isn’t as optimistic about Chisenhall improving as I am I think most would agree that the starting pitching has been very good of late. Do the Indians really need eight bullpen arms at the moment, especially after yesterday’s off day? In my opinion the answer is definitely no. This is no knock on Austin Adams, he’s been very solid in Cleveland but for a team that’s struggling to score, having that extra bench bat (however good he may be) is in my opinion more important.
So to summarize, there are two big reasons to call up Chisenhall. First, avoid burning his final minor league option. It improves his value in a trade and really to the Indians if they keep him in 2016. Second, the team needs all the help they can get. Chisenhall showed in 2014 that he does have the ability to hit major league pitching. Even if he only hits like he did in 2012 (105 wRC+, .268 AVG, .311 OBP), that would actually help out the Cleveland Indians in 2015.
And finally, what do the Indians really have to lose by calling Chisenhall back up? So what if your 4th bench bat struggles? Don’t have to keep playing him. But again, I’m optimistic that after this brief vacation to Triple-A Chisenhall can rebound. He’s shown it in the past and it’s not (yet) time to give up on Chisenhall or relegate him to Quad-A status.