Has Lonnie Chisenhall Found His Stride?

Earlier this season, it appeared that Lonnie Chisenhall would become a perennial AAA ballplayer, would forever be stuck in the limbo between the highest levels of the minor leagues and the Major League stage. His big league performances have bounced up and down in recent years, and he has moved around the infield with little consistency at any one position.

Last season, Chisenhall found himself at third base after Carlos Santana become the Tribe’s first baseman when Yan Gomes took over as the regular catcher. Chisenhall did not excel at third, and was a point of severe exasperation in the Tribe’s already-shoddy defense. At the plate, Chisenhall did remarkably better than in the field, hitting .280 with 13 home runs. He had 134 hits in 142 games and hit .269 with two outs and runners in scoring position. When the team was behind, Chisenhall  hit .298; when they were ahead, he was hitting .303. Despite his defense, Chisenhall’s offense made the argument that he was a valuable player of the Indians team.

“His defense has to improve for this year to work for him,” was the mantra heading into the 2015 season. The offense was there, now the defense just had to rise to match it.

Unfortunately, 2015 was not Chisenhall’s best start.

He spent the first few months of the season with the big league club, when he hit .209 in 52 games. He had 37 hits and four home runs. In 50 games at third base during that time, Chisenhall committed five errors. His performance was hardly extraordinary, and it merited a return to Columbus for just over a month.

Upon Chisenhall’s return to the big league team at the end of July, he has exceeded any expectations that fans cautiously set for his Major League performance.

In the 32 games he has played through September 9, Chisenhall is hitting .330 with two home runs, 31 hits, and 25 strikeouts. Defensively, he has found himself in right field, filling in for the loss of Brandon Moss at the trade deadline. He has made only one errors in that tie and, quite frankly, plays a good outfield.

Chisenhall had one of the most impressive defensive nights on September 10 against the Detroit Tigers, when he recorded three outfield assists in one game. In doing so, Chisenhall become the first Tribe player since Rick Manning in 1981 and first player in the league since Mark Teahen of Kansas City in 2007 to achieve that feat.

Chisenhall’s first two assists came in the second inning of the game, as he helped record two outs during a run-down that resulted in a double play, ending a rally for the Tigers. Later in the game, Chisenhall threw a runner out at home to record his third outfield assist of the evening.

Prior the September 10’s game, Chisenhall had a 41.1 UZR/150, which ranked first in the Major Leagues among 49 right fielders with at least 200 innings. Chisenhall also has 11 Defensive Runs Saved.

Luckily for Chisenhall, his resurgence with the big league club after the All-Star break has probably assured him a regular role in the coming season. Chisenhall is arbitration eligible next year, and becomes a free agent in 2018. By that time, it is likely that the Indians organization’s abundance of outfield prospects will be knocking at the big league door, reading for their shot starting at Progressive Field. In those few years until the likes of Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier, and Tyler Naquin are all ready to claim their spots in Cleveland’s outfield, it seems that Chisenhall could be a better-than-average place holder in the outfield, and hopefully a continued strength at the plate.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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