2012 in Review: Lonnie Chisenhall

Jason Miller

Lonnie Chisenhall was the Indians’ 1st round pick in 2008. He moved steadily through the minors, entered 2011 as one of Cleveland’s highest rated prospects, and was called up in late June that season. He didn’t blow anyone away, but was solid. In spring training this year he was in competition for the 3B job, but Jack Hannahan was eventually named the starter. Chisenhall was sent back to Columbus so that he could play every day.

Bat: Left Throws: Right

2012 Age: 23

2012 bWAR: 0.1

2012 fWAR: 0.0

2012 Salary: ~$480,000

2013 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration (~$480,000)

Chisenhall played really well in triple-A at the start of the season, putting a slash line of .314/.341/.517 in thirty games. With Jack Hannahan not hitting or fielding as well as was hoped for, Chisenhall was called up and made his 2012 debut on May 28th, lining a home run to right field in his first trip to the plate. He began starting at 3B most days and seemed to have claimed the job as his own until on June 29th his right forearm was fractured by a pitch from Baltimore’s Troy Patton, sending him to the DL.

Up to that point, Chisenhall was batting .278 and had 3 HR and 6 XBH, giving him a slugging percentage of .458 over 74 PA in 24 games (19 starts).

It was unclear whether he’d be able to return before the end of the season or not, but his recovery and rehab went well and on September 10th he returned to the lineup and once again he lined a home run to deep right in his first game. He played in 19 games over the remainder of the season (starting 17 of them) and batted .257 with a slugging percentage of .400. Here are Chisenhall's numbers since being drafted, you can see what piecing the two parts of his 2012 season together looks like:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2008 19 CLE-min A- 68 305 276 38 80 20 3 5 45 7 2 24 32 .290 .355 .438 .794
2009 20 CLE-min A+,AA 123 533 481 72 124 31 3 22 92 3 1 44 96 .258 .325 .472 .797
2010 21 CLE-min AA 117 524 460 81 128 22 3 17 84 3 0 46 77 .278 .351 .450 .801
2011 22 CLE-min AAA 66 292 255 45 68 15 3 7 45 0 1 28 47 .267 .353 .431 .784
2011 22 CLE AL 66 223 212 27 54 13 0 7 22 1 0 8 49 .255 .284 .415 .699 94
2012 23 CLE-min AAA 30 126 118 16 37 12 0 4 17 0 0 4 22 .314 .341 .517 .858
2012 23 CLE AL 43 151 142 16 38 6 1 5 16 2 1 8 27 .268 .311 .430 .741 108
2 Yrs 109 374 354 43 92 19 1 12 38 3 1 16 76 .260 .295 .421 .716 100
162 Game Avg. 162 556 526 64 137 28 1 18 56 4 1 24 113 .260 .295 .421 .716 100

Those are decent numbers for a 3B. Among 44 players with at least 150 PA this year who played mostly 3B, an OPS+ of 108 ranks 18th. If you take the thirty 3B who played the most in 2012 (because there are thirty teams), half of them had an OPS+ of 108 or better, half were worse. It seems fair to say that Chisenhall’s hitting this year would rate him as an average MLB starter at the position. Is average hitting what the Indians are hoping for from him? No, it’s not. He was also just 23 years old though, all of the 17 3B with 150 PA and a better OPS+ than Chisenhall are older than him.

There are however two big red flags that jump out in looking at Chisenhall’s offense:

Red flag #1: He hit horribly against lefties this year. Here are his splits:

Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip sOPS+
vs RHP as LHB 41 112 104 31 4 1 5 15 8 18 .298 .348 .500 .848 .321 125
vs LHP as LHB 22 39 38 7 2 0 0 1 0 9 .184 .205 .237 .442 .241 37

A .442 OPS simply doesn’t cut it, Brooks Robinson couldn’t have stuck in the big leagues with offense like that. However, before you get to concerned about it, please take note of the third column, which shows that Chisenhall had just 39 PA against southpaws this year. That is a miniscule sample size, not something that much should be read into, especially when you look at his 2011 platoon splits:

Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip sOPS+
vs RHP as LHB 63 171 162 41 11 0 2 11 6 35 .253 .282 .358 .640 .310 72
vs LHP as LHB 35 52 50 13 2 0 5 11 2 14 .260 .288 .600 .888 .258 165

Yep, in 2011 he was better against left-handed pitchers than against righties, with an .888 OPS. That figure is also from a very small sample of PA. It wouldn’t surprise me if Chisenhall has some trouble with lefties in 2013, because that’s not uncommon for young left-handed hitters.

Red flag #2: Chisenhall has drawn very few walks at the Major League level.

Chisenhall’s walk rate was just 5.3% in 2012 and was even worse in 2011 (3.2%). It difficult to be an effective offensive player while drawing so few walks. It isn’t impossible, The Rangers’ star 3B Adrian Beltre had an OPS+ of 136 with a walk rate almost identical to Chisenhall’s this season (and others have done well too), but it’s rare.

The bright side of things here is that his walk rate in the minors between 2008 and 2011 was nearly 9%, a respectable figure, and his walk rate for the second "half" of his 2012 was a lot better than before his injury. He walked just once in 74 PA before the injury, but upon his return he drew 7 walks in 77 PA, nearly identical to his 2008-2011 minor league figure. It’s something to keep an eye on, but not necessarily a problem.

Chisenhall doesn’t profile as a great defender, and neither B-R nor Fangraphs liked his play there in 2012. He was rated as mildly above average by both sites in 2011, and he’s capable of bouncing back to that once he has more distance from his injury. He’s never going to be a wizard at the hot corner, but I think he can hold his own.

Chisenhall will skip winter ball this offseason so that he can more fully recover from the injury. It’d be nice to have him get some more playing experience before spring training, but I trust the collective judgment that went into that decision. I look for Chisenhall to take a nice step up in 2013 and become a solid player for the Indians.

Place in the Indians' 2013 Plans: The 3B job will be his. He'll likely bat near the bottom of the order to begin the season, but it's certainly possible hell be moved up as the season progresses, if he's playing toward the high end of his abilities.

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