Lonnie Chisenhall, once upon a time a star prospect for the Indians, has had his ups and down, but it's time for him to be given back his job at third base. By all accounts, the Carlos Santana experiment has been a failure thus far, as the 28-year-old has had a miserable season and is mired in the worst offensive slump of his career. Santana is batting just .154, worst in the American League.
Chisenhall on the other hand has been an offensive force and has responded well since losing his job to Santana to open the season. Among the eleven players on the team with 60+ PA, Lonnie has the best batting average (.353), best on-base percentage (.421), and best OPS (.880 OPS). Chisenhall's wRC+ is 155, which ranks 7th in the American League among players with at least as many plate appearances (97) as him.
A major reason for Chisenhall's success has been his ability to get the bat on the ball and hit 'em where they ain't. Lonnie's BABIP is currently .455, an unsustainably high number that will decline, but that doesn't mean he's not still hitting very well. Chisenhall's BABIP last season was just .243, and he was unlucky to finish 2013 with such mediocre overall numbers. His "true" BABIP lies somewhere between this year and last year's numbers, likely somewhere in the .300s. He's not a .353 hitter (though has anyone seen Tony Gwynn lately, maybe he's chosen to return in the form of Lonnie), but he's better than what his numbers last year would have had you believe.
Just because Lonnie's BABIP is high this year doesn't mean his success has been down to luck. Chisenhall's line-drive rate is significantly higher than last season, sitting at 30.3%, a clear sign he's been making great contact. This hasn't translated into any home runs yet (although he came really close in Anaheim, but for an amazing Mike Trout catch), which is surprising. However, Chisenhall has hit the ball well to the gaps, and has 9 doubles already, good enough for joint third on the team. I don't expect he'll ever become the 25-30+ home run hitter we once expected, but he's hitting the ball well and some home runs will eventually emerge.
Manager Terry Francona has strictly limited Chisenhall to batting against right-handed pitchers, and he's had enormous success against them so far, but surely it's time to see if Lonnie can hit lefties. Chisenhall has had just 2 at-bats against left-handers this season, never starting against a southpaw, and almost always being lifted for a pinch hitter when a lefty reliever is in the game. Throughout his young career Lonnie has had trouble with left-handers, but the restriction imposed this season has been very harsh. I'm sure right now he's an upgrade over Santana, and I think Francona should give Chisenhall a full chance, regardless of what hand the pitcher throws with.
Last winter, I said this was Chisenhall's final chance to prove he could be the Indians' everyday man at third base. When organisation named Santana the starter at third before the season began, it meant Lonnie's chance was only to prove himself as a hitter, and he's dug in and done that, making the most of the opportunities he's been given. Now give him the chance to prove it as an everyday starter at third base.