Chisenhall Finally Finding Good Level of Consistency With Indians
Craig Gifford | On 10, Jul 2016
Streaks of hot hitting and good play are nothing new for Cleveland Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Tribe fans have seen the 27-year-old gives glimpses in the past of what made him a first round, 29th overall, selection in the 2008 amateur draft.
In the past, those have turned out to be teases. Just when you may have started thinking Chisenhall had Major League pitching all figured out, he would go into a deep slump that would not end until Cleveland management had no choice but to send its young player, with loads of potential, on yet another trip to Columbus.
Two years ago, it really felt like Chisenhall had turned the corner from someone struggling to find his way to someone who had his footing in the big leagues and was never going to be turned back again. On July 5, 2014, the Chiz Kid was batting .342 with nine home runs and 39 RBI. Being a part-time player to start the year was likely the only reason he was not an All-Star that season. Life was good for Chisenhall as he appeared to finally be living up to his potential as a big-time hitter. He’d followed up a ridiculously good month of May, in which he had hit .373, with a strong June hitting .311. Then, just like that, it all went down hill and fast.
Chisenhall hit .209 in July. In August, he went up to .250 and then slumped back to .219 for the month of September. That gaudy batting average of early April had dipped all the way down to a much more pedestrian .280 season average by the end.
The slump that started in the final three months of 2014 carried over into last season as Chisenhall looked absolutely lost in all facets of the game. He was not hitting to begin 2015. Making matters worse, his fielding, which was usually at least adequate, was just as bad. On June 7, he was hitting .209 and booting the ball around at the hot corner. After nearly a full season of poor hitting, following the great three-month stretch, the Indians simply could not keep Chisenhall on a ball club that had postseason aspirations. He was jettisoned to Triple-A to again get his swing back.
At that point some wondered if a trade might be needed to rejuvenate what may be left Chisenhall’s career. Others wondered if he was going to go down as another first round bomb. Since his rookie season of 2011, Chisenhall was always a maddening player who would look good in stretches and then go very, very bad. It appeared he was out of chances last June.
Then opportunity struck. Cleveland got out from under the heavy contracts of veteran outfielders Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. The Tribe needed outfielders. Chisenhall was being converted from third baseman to right field on a team short on high-level outfield talent. Even now, Cleveland’s top outfield prospects are in Double-A Akron, two steps away from the majors.
On July 30, Chisenhall came back to Cleveland as almost literally a new man. His third base job had been given to the slick fielding Giovanny Urshela. Chisenhall was in the outfield. In his newest chance, Chisenhall made good. He made very good. The last two months of last season, he showed that he had found his swing with the Clippers. He hit .403 in August and was flashing some very good leather in right field. His bat again went south in September, to the tune of .167, but it was not noticed as much because he gave the Indians glove work in right field that had been missing for a while. He showed that he had athleticism and the arm strength to be an above average right fielder for the Tribe.
It carried over into this spring training as he was penciled into Cleveland’s Opening Day roster as its starting right fielder. The organization was excited about the defense he could bring to a ball club that struggled in the field the first half of 2015.
Chisenhall got hurt in spring training and missed the first two weeks of this season, but has been the Indians’ nearly everyday right fielder since mid-April. So far, the team’s patience with him has paid off. In more than 500 innings playing right field, Chisenhall has made just one error. He is playing a great defense rarely seen from him when he was manning the infield.
To go with the excellent work in the outfield, Chisenhall has also enjoyed another nice stretch of hitting. He is currently batting .301 with six home runs and 28 RBI. He has settled well into an offense that is doing better than anyone could have envisioned, especially considering it has been missing one of its more important pieces in left fielder Michael Brantley for nearly the entire season.
After a slow start in his return to action, Chisenhall has really hit well for the last couple months. Again, Tribe fans have seen this before, yet for some reason this seems different. It seems different and may actually be different on multiple levels.
For one, Chisenhall’s hot stretches in past years were simply mind-blowing – hitting .373 in May of 2014 and hitting .403 last August. Those, however, were hot spurts you simply knew could not last. Yes, the kid has potential, but he is not Ted Williams, George Brett or Tony Gwynn – guys who could hit at that kind of level for sustained amounts of time.
This year, Chisenhall has gotten to his strong season total with a more consistent approach. He hit .313 in May, .302 in June, and is at a .323 clip so far this month. Those are not other-worldly. Those are solid months that feel like numbers that a guy like Chisenhall has a better chance of sustaining.
It is also different now because Chisenhall is a lot more comfortable and confident in the field. Gone are the days when he would struggle at third base and a fielding slump could combine with a hitting slump that would seem to just further affect Chisenhall mentally. The Indians, to their credit, changed Chisenhall’s position in the field and have finally found a place where the athletic player can have great success. He can focus more now on staying sharp at the plate and less on having to fine-tune his glove work.
Finally, this is a player that may simply be coming into his own. People who thought last year that Chisenhall should be out of chances were looking at his years in the big leagues and not his years on this planet. It seems like Chisenhall has been around and struggling to find a good level of consistency for years.
It feels that way because this is, after all, his sixth season playing in the Majors. However, he is only 27. He was 21 when the team called him to the big leagues for the first time. He was a first round pick out of high school. He did not play college ball. He had a lot to learn in life and had to do it as a professional. Not everyone can be Mike Trout, who can be an MVP before his 25th birthday. Trout is a once-in-a-generation type of player. Chisenhall is a more normal guy who may simply be taking time to adjust.
Just now, Chisenhall is hitting what should be a player’s prime. This season is now beyond the halfway point and mid-July is upon us. Chisenhall, barring something cataclysmic, will have a full MLB season under his belt. 2014 was the only other time in his career that he can say that.
The next few months will be big for Chisenhall and his continued growth. He seems to finally have a position he loves playing in the field. He is hitting at a far more consistent level than ever before in his Major League career. The Indians need this to continue as they will enter the post All-Star break portion of the schedule firmly in first place in the American League Central Division. He has helped to shore up an outfield that some thought would be lost until Brantley returned.
Chisenhall needs his good play to continue as he looks to finally end his return trips to Columbus, as well as the talk that he needs a change of scenery. He is slowly starting to prove that he can fulfill his promise in Cleveland. It is obvious that Chisenhall does have what it takes to have success in the Majors. He needs to do it at a consistent level. Hitting .400 one month and .200 the next is not consistent, despite what would be a nice-looking .300 overall average.
Fans and the organization have seen Chisenhall in good stretches before. However, this time it really does feel different. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope that it continues to remain different.
Photo: John Bazemore/Associated Press