Is Chisenhall the Right Fit in Outfield?
Bob Toth | On 07, Nov 2015
Nobody stirs speculation and hope from the bowels of doubt quite like Lonnie Chisenhall.
Chisenhall, who has been a member of the Tribe’s Major League roster since late June 2011, is still looking to find his big league identity and role. Most players who have participated in five different seasons usually have established a role long ago, but not the up-and-down Chisenhall who has struggled both offensively and defensively at times in his career.
Coming off his best season, and only one without a demotion to Triple-A Columbus, Chisenhall looked to solidify himself as a piece to the Indians puzzle moving forward early in 2015. Chisenhall hit .280 with 13 home runs in 2014 – riding a hot first half before cooling off – and was expected to hopefully provide a full season of production in 2015. Despite poor defense in the past, Chisenhall worked extensively last winter and spring to improve his defense at third base.
However, Chisenhall’s inconsistencies surfaced again in 2015. Chisenhall’s defense was much improved, registering 7 Defensive Runs Saved and a 3.8 Defensive Rating, but his offense again suffered. He hit just .209 with a .241 on-base percentage in the first half of 2015 and on June 10, he was again optioned to Columbus.
This time when Chisenhall returned to Cleveland, he came with an improved bat, but also a new position. Chisenhall converted to right field and while the Indians hoped he would be adequate—he had only played seven games in right field at Columbus—he turned out to be exceptional. He logged 11 Defensive Runs Saved and a 7.4 Defensive Rating in 354 innings played in right field. Chisenhall assumed the position after Brandon Moss was dumped to the St. Louis Cardinals in early August. Chisenhall and Francisco Lindor are the two biggest reasons behind the Indians’ defensive turnaround and becoming one of the best defenses in baseball.
Offensively, Chisenhall seemed to be enjoying another hot streak after his August recall. For the month he hit .403 in 23 games, but like so many times before September proved to be the downfall to August’s upswing. He hit just .183 in the final 29 games of the season. His splits versus left-handed and right-handed pitching were comparable for the season, but the Indians will likely consider him a platoon player moving forward since he hits 20 points higher versus righties.
And that’s really where the complication with Chisenhall and his 2016 role begins. Chisenhall has yet to prove in five different seasons that he can be counted on to be an every day player at any position. It would be easy on other teams to consider him a platoon player or fourth outfield option, but MLBTradeRumors.com projects Chisenhall to make $3 million in salary arbitration for 2016, and for the always-financially-strapped Tribe, that’s a bit of a price for a player whose only consistency has been being inconsistent since 2011.
Determining Chisenhall’s fit and role, both on the field and the payroll, are tough to make a decision on in a vacuum. The Indians seem to be a core, quality player away from contention, but those kind of players cost money, whether they are obtained through trades or free agency. If the Indians acquired a quality center fielder, and Chisenhall was a casualty of the Indians own self-imposed salary cap, it would be fine. But, as the roster is currently constructed, and based upon previous offseason strategy, the Indians will again probably count on Chisenhall and many others to fill roles and hope they improve and mature into players they’ve never consistently been.
For Chisenhall, the former #1 pick of the Indians in 2008 and top prospect is a prospect no longer. He enters 2016 in his 27-year-old season. He begins the prime of his career, without being able to demonstrate he can put together a full Major League season or be a full-time big league starter. While fans hold hope Chisenhall can finally be that core player moving forward, he also has a chance to be the next in a line of David Dellucci and David Murphy as over-priced platoon players.
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