Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 8
Bob Toth | On 21, Mar 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 8 days
Just as was the case with yesterday’s countdown representative, Erik Gonzalez, and his jersey number nine, the number eight may be soon destined to a new home in Cleveland.
Its current representative is Lonnie Chisenhall, the Tribe’s first round pick in the 2008 draft and a seven-year member of the team’s parent roster. The former third baseman turned right fielder enters the 2018 season in the final year of his contract with the Indians, so a return for 2019 and beyond is hardly guaranteed.
The story in recent years for Chisenhall has been his health (before that, it was questionable production). Just one time in his seven years in the Majors has Chisenhall avoided appearing during the season at the minor league level. Over the last several years, trips were limited to rehab assignments, but from 2011 to 2013 and again in 2015, it was based on the lacking results at the plate.
Chisenhall has not been both healthy and productive for the course of a full season since 2014, when he logged a career-high 142 games for Cleveland with personal bests across the board. He hit .280 with a .343 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging mark with 29 doubles, a triple, 13 homers, and 59 RBI. But for much of his time in the Majors, his managers have viewed him as more of a platoon partner than an every day starter, especially since moving away from the third base position and into the outfield in 2015.
Last season, he logged 82 games of action with the Indians and another 13 during minor league rehab stints. He missed the start of the season with a right shoulder sprain, another two weeks in May and June with a concussion, and a month and a half following the All-Star break with a calf injury. In the half-season’s worth of games that he was able to play in, Chisenhall put up strong numbers, slashing .288/.360/.521 with 17 doubles, a triple, 12 homers, and 53 RBI. Stretching those numbers out over 130 to 140 games would have shot him well over most of his personal highs and awfully close on some others.
He also bucked the platoon trend last season, performing well over the .237 average and .289 on-base percentage that he had posted in his career against left-handers entering the season. Albeit a small sample size, Chisenhall batted .340 with a .456 OBP with a pair of doubles, two homers, and ten RBI in 60 plate appearances. While the workload against southpaws was comparable to previous seasons, it marked the first time since his rookie season in 2011 (5) that he hit more than one homer off of a lefty, while his ten RBI were just one short of his run production from that same campaign.
His overall numbers last season were heavily influenced by his impressive month of June, before injuries really cut into his time. He saw regular action, appearing in 22 games, and put up a .373/.425/.627 line at the plate with five doubles, four homers, and 21 RBI, nearly double the amount of runs that he would drive in during any other month of the schedule. But for the rest of the year with that production removed, he slashed .254/.335/.479, far different from that herculean effort at the beginning of the summer.
How manager Terry Francona will plan to use Chisenhall remains to be seen for 2018, especially with the uncertain nature of the outfield. Michael Brantley is just returning to spring training action, set to appear in his first game of the Cactus League schedule on Wednesday night. Chisenhall’s primary platoon mate, Brandon Guyer, has been shelved by injury as well and his status for the start of the season is up in the air. Chisenhall’s numbers thus far in spring have not been anything to write home about, as he has slashed just .195/.267/.220 in 14 games heading into play midweek with a double amongst his eight hits and three RBI while striking out ten times in 45 trips to the plate and grounding into a pair of double plays.
Chisenhall’s ability to stay healthy for the season and productive against lefties will both have a strong bearing on his future residency at Progressive Field during the summer months. His half-season of numbers netted him a raise to nearly $5.6 million for the coming season after making $4.3 million last season, but with free agency looming and other cheaper options in the minors looking for playing time (like Abraham Almonte, Greg Allen, Tyler Naquin, and even top prospect Francisco Mejia if his conversion to the outfield is successful), Chisenhall’s days in the number eight in Cleveland could be limited to just this season.
Other notable 8s in Tribe history (35 in total): Luke Sewell (the first from 1929-32), Ken Keltner (1941-44), Ray Boone (1949-53), Willie Kirkland (1961-62), Ray Fosse (1967-72), Albert Belle (1990-96), John McDonald (1999-2004).
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images