After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today we analyze a player that will most likely see an increased role in 2013, versus the role they had in 2012.
In 2013, Lonnie Chisenhall will have the first chance to be the Indians starting third baseman, and despite a small sample size at the big league level, the statistics say he’s ready.
Chisenhall finished his injury-shortened season with five home runs in 151 plate appearances. His .268 batting average was 13 points higher than the 2011 campaign, and he showed significant improvements in his on base percentage (.311), and slugging percentage (.430).
Chisenhall had a very short window to prove what he could do at the major league level. He began the year at Triple-A Columbus, and, after getting called up in late May, he had only 24 games under his belt before injury kept him sidelined for more than two months. Still, the 23-year old third baseman made big strides moving forward, and showed great potential looking ahead to 2013.
Despite his limited major league playing time in 2012, it appears the Indians have already decided that Chisenhall will be a major part of 2013. Team President Mark Shapiro alluded to him as a piece of the puzzle moving forward.
“The position player talent of Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and getting Lonnie Chisenhall for a full season in among those guys and getting someone like Russ Canzler in among those guys,” Shapiro said when asked to identify a core. “We’ve got the pieces—obviously we need some more pieces.”
He suffered a fractured wrist on June 29 after being hit by a pitch in Baltimore. Prior to his injury, he was batting .282 with three home runs in 71 at bats. He was on his way to taking the starting third base job for the rest of the season.
Chisenhall was beginning to make strides at a major league hitter, and the young third baseman could feel it.
“I started to swing the bat well,” Chisenhall said, “I was feeling good in the box and starting to play more consistently.”
After the injury, he spent the next 10 days in a cast, and wouldn’t return to the Indians lineup until September 10.The time off did nothing to hinder his confidence.
“I just continued to progress…I believe in myself,” Chisenhall said.
His return in September left off where he ended things in June; hitting .276 in the month, and blasting two home runs. In all, he hit the ball well, made strides defensively, came through in the clutch and on a team looking for “RBI Men,” Chisenhall batted .340 with men on base.
Chisenhall is not eligible for free agency, and therefore under team control, until 2016. After a disappointing season from the aging Jack Hannahan, it is unlikely the Tribe will consider offering arbitration to the all-glove, veteran. He’s projected to make $1.5 million in salary arbitration, and considering he no longer fits on a young team, it seems Hannahan will be gone in 2013 and the job will be all Chisehnall’s.
The 23-year old has always been considered a good prospect, since being the Indians’ top draft pick in 2008. He doesn’t walk all that much, and his batting average only once surpassed the .300 mark, but on the up side, he makes good contact, he doesn’t strikeout much, and he has shown 20+ home run power. While Chisenhall has not played extensively in Cleveland, the statistics and comparisons say he’s ready to be a part of Shapiro’s 2013 core.
His contact numbers are particularly impressive. The average Major League hitter made contact on 66.8% of pitches swung at outside the strike zone. Chisenhall made contact on 75.9% of those pitches. In comparison, notorious contact hitter Derek Jeter made contact with 73.3% of those pitches. On pitches inside the strike zone, Chisenhall made contact 92.4% of the time, compared to the league average of 87.2%. Jeter falls just short of Chisenhall at 90.4%. For total contact of pitches swung at, Chisenhall’s 86.1% is well above the league average of 79.7%, and above Jeter’s 2013 mark of 84.5%.
Not only is Chisenhall very good at making contact, the quality of his contact is exceptional. Of his balls in play, 25.2% were line drives. Continuing with the Jeter comparison, the Yankee shortstop had 21.7% of his hits as line drives. In addition, Chisenhall had a 13.3% FB/HR rate. This means that 13.3% of the balls he hit in the air went for home runs. To put this percentage in perspective, in 2011, Asdrubal Cabrera hit 25 home runs at a HR/FB rate of 13.5%.
Comparisons can be made between Chisenhall, and former Indians third bag man Travis Fryman. Both men drew relatively few walks, and made good contact. Both had 20 home run power, and both began their careers at a very young age, Fryman at 21, Chisenhall at 22. At age 22, Fryman batted .259, Chisenhall batted .255. At age 23, Fryman batted .266, Chisenhall .268. Many systems project Chisenhall to play around 139 games in 2013 with around 28 doubles, 16 home runs and a .271 batting average. For the young third basemen’s first year as a starter, these are very positive number, and they will only improve with experience.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images