Cleveland Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall Is Thriving in Outfield Role

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Could Cleveland Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall Be Another Alex Gordon?

When Royals’ third baseman Alex Gordon couldn’t quite hack it at the hot corner, Kansas City sent him down to Triple-A to get some reps in the outfield. Now, Gordon is an All-Star left fielder, and he’s known for both stellar defense and a potent bat.

The Cleveland Indians are hoping Lonnie Chisenhall will follow suit, and based on the extremely small sample size seen so far, it seems to be working. He’s played in 16 games since his return from Columbus, and he’s batting .388/.444/.551, compared to .209/.241/.345 before he was sent down.

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Much like Chisenhall, Gordon was a top prospect who just couldn’t quite put it all together at the major league level. He was expected to be an impact bat and a solid fielder, but he posted a .244/.328/.405 line through his first four seasons with the Royals – hardly All-Star numbers. Gordon’s struggles were so pronounced that fans labeled him a bust – something Chisenhall is quite familiar with.

This defensive change has already done Chisenhall some good. While he certainly doesn’t look like a veteran outfielder, he does have fairly decent instincts that seem to be serving him well. And his arm is phenomenal, after so many years of playing third. This was definitely a good move for the Indians, and it will be interesting to see if he takes off as an outfielder the way Gordon has.

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So far this year, Chisenhall has logged 184 plate appearances as a third baseman and 49 as an outfielder. As a third baseman, he’s batting .209/.242/.349. As an outfielder, those numbers skyrocket to .432/.490/.614. While such small sample sizes are hard to use as hard evidence, it’s very possible that trend will continue.

Third base is considered one of the hardest defensive positions, due to a shortened reaction time and the length and accuracy that’s required on many throws to first base. In the outfield, Chisenhall has more time to make decisions, and while his mistakes might lead to extra bases, outfield errors are less noticeable than an infield error that allows a runner to reach base. Outfielders make poor throws to the plate all the time, but they are very rarely criticized for it.

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When a runner reaches first base due to an infielder’s error, it’s much more noticeable than if a runner takes an extra base on an offline throw from the outfield. How many times have fans heard announcers calmly say, “The throw from the outfield was up the first base line,” as though there was nothing that could have been done to prevent a run from scoring? When an outfielder does make a good throw, it’s often highlight-reel worthy.

Coming from third base, where routine outs are expected on every play, the outfield probably feels like a picnic for Chisenhall. Without all the added stress of infield defense, he can focus on what he excels at most – hitting the ball hard, and smashing plenty of home runs. If he can keep this up, the Indians won’t need to look for a new right-fielder next season at all.

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