Chisenhall and Guyer Make For One Very Good Right Fielder
Craig Gifford | On 05, Mar 2017
The word “platoon” can sometimes be a red flag word when referring to a player. A manager can oftentimes see that word as a burden. However, when it comes to the Cleveland Indians right field situation, it is more the term for something of a perfect marriage.
On August , last season, Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall became joined at the hip as the co-right fielders for the Tribe. Alone, each has a fatal flaw. Together, they form something of the perfect right fielder for Indians manager Terry Francona to trot out to the position each day.
Chisenhall, a left-handed hitter, has been with the Tribe organization since he was tabbed as a highly-touted 19-year-old prospect in the first round of the 2008 amateur draft. He started as a third baseman, where he could barely cut it in the field. Late in 2015, the Indians converted Chisenhall to right field, where he has seemingly found a comfort zone. He’s not the most graceful of athletes, but covers a lot of ground.
Now 28, a lot has always been expected of the player taken so highly in a draft nearly nine seasons ago. His bat was always supposed to be what made him a productive Major League Baseball player and allow him to make his mark at the game’s highest level, but he has had his ups and downs at the plate. Much like his batting, Chisenhall, over his career, has found himself up and down between Triple-A and Cleveland.
Starting in late 2015, though, Chisenhall has stuck in the Majors and appears to have settled in. The big reason for that is Francona has found how to optimize his players’ talents to their fullest potential.
Chisenhall, for all his flashes of brilliance at the plate, really struggles to hit left-handed pitching. When he looks like a force at the plate it is usually against a righty. Southpaws have almost always baffled him. The one year that the former third baseman actually hit lefties well was his 2014 campaign when hit to a tune of .294 against his fellow left-handed brethren and hit only .271 against the righties he usually hits so much better against. That season was an odd one for him any way. That was the year he was hitting an absurd .372 into June, before falling off and finishing the season at .280.
Overall, Chisenhall has had issues and droughts when trying to bat against left-handers. When managers have tried to force him to play every day and face tough lefties, that has been, in the past, what has put him into prolonged slumps and then back to the minors. In 550 career games against right-handed pitchers, Chisenhall has a .268 batting average, with 43 home runs and 195 RBI. That’s not great, but it does make for a productive hitter. On the flip side, even with that strong 2014 showing, Chisenhall sports only a .237 batting average in 220 games against pitchers throwing with the other arm.
Starting in late 2015 and carrying into last year, Francona finally started using Chisenhall primarily against right-handed pitching. It has helped him gain confidence and let him blossom as a hitter. He has his most consistent season at the plate in 2016. Over his career, Chisenhall was always one who would have a crazy month or two and then nose dive. He did neither last year, maintaining a sturdy, productive hitter in the Tribe batting order all year. He ended the season with a .286 batting average and eight home runs. He was still porous against lefties a year ago, hitting only .217 against them. However, he only had 52 plate appearances against southpaws in 2016. Comparatively, he stepped to the dish 366 times against a righty and hit a strong .295 against them.
Earlier in the season, it was harder for Francona to hide Chisenhall’s flaws at the plate. There was not really a good right-handed hitting option to pair with Chisenhall in a right field platoon. That changed when Tribe management swung what was initially received by some fans as an insignificant trade deadline deal with the Tampa Bay Rays last summer. Following the addition of superstar reliever Andrew Miller and the near addition of All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, adding Guyer seemed like a filler move to the Indians faithful.
It has proven to be so much more. It has made right field a more settled position. As Chisenhall can hit righties really well, but struggles with lefties, Guyer is the opposite. The 31-year-old cleans up against left-handed hurlers, but righties baffle him. Guyer, naturally, is a right-handed hitter.
Guyer was a fifth round draft selection by the Chicago Cubs a year before the Indians nabbed Chisenhall. Guyer has floated from Chicago to Tampa to Cleveland and has proven valuable against tough left-handers. In 457 career at bats against lefties, Guyer has hit a career .289, compared to just .236 against righties in roughly the same sample size of 475 at bats. In 2016, Guyer hit an eye-popping .336 against southpaws and a mere .216 against righties. In short, he is an All-Star caliber player against a left-handed pitcher and Mario Mendoza against a right-hander.
Looking at just last season, take Chisenhall’s .295 average versus righties and Guyer’s .336 when facing lefties and you have a right fielder hitting over .300 for the season. Together, the two make for a dangerous position player at the plate. Apart, either one can struggle and go into a slump when he sees a pitcher throwing from the side of the mound of which he is vulnerable.
Much like last season, 2017 is starting off with a lot of questions in the outfield. All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley is still trying to work back from a late-2015 shoulder injury. That was the case last spring. There are center field platoon questions as well. Last year’s rookie sensation Tyler Naquin should make the team, but is not a 100 percent lock. His platoon partner is undecided. At least, unlike last year, right field seems completely settled.
While the position is settled, there must be some in the organization who would love to see Chisenhall take further steps forward in his development. A first round pick should be expected to blossom into an everyday player who can hit both right and left-handed throwers. At 28, Chisenhall is just at the beginning of his prime years and could still grow as a player. If he could start hitting lefties at a better, more-consistent clip, it would allow Guyer to platoon with the left-handed hitting Naquin in center field if need be or help out in left. Guyer, unlike Chisenhall, has shown the propensity to be able to float around the outfield positions.
That is a perfect world scenario. Francona may let Chisenhall get some opportunities against lefties and Guyer some chances against righties. However, sometimes you have to go with old saying of, “why mess with a good thing?” Chisenhall and Guyer had a good thing going from August through October last year. The Indians should let it ride and be happy that one outfield spot is fully covered, even it it is by two players. It is one platoon that everyone can excel and succeed with.
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