After Tribe third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall drew his first walk of the season Wednesday night, the Plain Dealer‘s Paul Hoynes caught up with him Thursday to talk about his plate discipline issues. It’s a great interview (as Hoynes’ always are), but there’s one series of quotes from Chisenhall that was of some concern:
“I’m swinging it like the numbers say. I’m hit or miss, literally,” said Chisenhall. “I’ve got to swing at better pitches. I think that’s the only thing I’ve got to worry about.”
Chisenhall is not concerned about his lack of walks.
“If I’m overly patient it turns from patient to passive,” he said. “I know they’re worried about the walks, but I’m not looking to walk right now. If a guy walks me, he walks me. But I’m looking for a good, hard swing.”
It’s great to hear Chisenhall recognize that he needs to stop swinging at everything (perhaps he’s not trying to emulate Vladimir Guerrero after all), and given the power surge we’ve seen from him this year perhaps it would be unwise to dissuade him from his aggressiveness. But the sentiment he expressed to Hoynes implies a misunderstanding of what getting a base on balls really means.
Getting a walk is a symptom of good plate discipline. It takes skill to recognize when pitches are out of the zone and patience to lay off of them. But a base on balls is also a positive result in itself. The most important thing a batter needs to do when he steps to the plate is get on base. It’s both a cause and an effect of being a good player.
Therefore, Chisenhall saying he isn’t looking to walk is like saying he’s not looking to hit doubles or to shorten up his swing when he’s down 0-2. It’s like saying he’s not worried about taking leadoffs or that he isn’t concerned about catching pop flies. It’s possible to be a good player while walking only once every 60 plate appearances, but shouldn’t have such apathy towards something he can do to help the team.
I get what Chisenhall is trying to say, but in this case he is his own cautionary tale. He’s hit .258 in his 85-game MLB career, so “looking for good, hard swings” doesn’t seem to be helping him get on base. Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, and Casey Kotchman have all gotten on base at a better clip than Chisenhall’s .285 OBP this year. And that will tank even more if he can’t sustain his incredible rate of making contact on would-be balls.
Chisenhall is a tremendously talented player. I love the combination of his aggressiveness with his contact skills and burgeoning power, and I certainly don’t want to see him turn into a stoic in the batter’s box. But unless he starts hitting for average like Ichiro or mashing the ball like Jose Bautista, he would be wise to look to take a walk every now and then.