Aug 9, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (8) reacts after striking out to end the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Potential of Third Base Platoon for the Indians in 2014

Hopes were high at the start of the 2013 season that Lonnie Chisenhall would finally emerge as the legit power hitting threat everyone thought he could be.

It just didn’t happen.

Chisenhall’s struggles at the plate with lefties and pitch selection combined with various defensive miscues led to lost playing time and yet another exile to Triple-A Columbus. Sure, he eventually made his way back to Cleveland and into the lineup on a semi-regular basis to end the season, but it was a disappointing season none the less.

Meanwhile, Chisenhall’s loss was Mike Aviles‘ gain.

Third Base Mike Aviles

Aug 14, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Mike Aviles (4) hits a two run single in the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Acquired during the offseason in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, Aviles was brought in to serve as the team’s primary utility infielder. It was a role that Aviles not only accepted, but did well. Filling in around the diamond for Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, and even out in left field, Aviles proved his value and was a substantial upgrade over the likes of Jason Donald, Cord Phelps, and Brent Lillibridge. When inserted into the lineup, there was very little taken away in terms of offensive production and defensive prowess.

However, it was filling in for Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, particularly in the second half of the season, where Aviles proved his real worth to the Indians. His ability to hit left-handed pitching and play solid defense allowed Terry Francona to institute an effective platoon of Aviles versus left-handed starters and Chisenhall against right handers. In late game situations, he could also go to Aviles for a defensive replacement.

Unfortunately, Chisenhall’s inability to grab hold of the starting third base job and establish himself as an offensive threat has made an already impatient fan base that much more impatient. As a result, many fans have wondered aloud if the Indians should explore external options at third base for the 2014 season.

It’s a valid argument that can be made. Chisenhall did nothing to ensure anyone that he can handle the full-time job at third base. Aviles proved himself to be valuable in a limited role, but giving him the job on a full-time basis would only serve to expose his weaknesses rather than accentuate his strengths. There are any number of possible patches available via trade and free agency, but everything come with a cost attached. Whether it be actual dollars or human capital, the Indians aren’t going to have a new third baseman gifted to them.

Third Base, Lonnie Chisenhall

Apr 19, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (8) hits a home run against the Houston Astros in the fifth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This problem got me thinking. Could the Indians go through the 2014 season not with a new starting third baseman, but rather a combination of the two best options already available in house? In other words, could the Indians make do with a third base platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles?

I know what you’re thinking. As someone who remembers the Indians last great platoon experiment – the dynamic duo of Jason Michaels and David Dellucci that manned left field in 2007 and 2008 – the idea of a platoon doesn’t exactly sit well. However, there may be some validity to the idea of teaming up Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles to form a competent major league third baseman.

Looking at things in the simplest of ways, you can see that the idea may not be all that crazy. As it turns out, Chisenhall and Aviles’ combined 2013 stats produce a halfway decent offensive player. Admittedly, this logic is not full proof as there were times when both players were on the field at the same time and doesn’t reflect a true platoon situation. But, for the sake of this argument, it may be the best possible way to look at the validity of the platoon option. (Combined WAR calculated using Wahoo’s on First’s Simple WAR Calculator)

combined stats

Combined 2013 Stats for Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles

As you can see, based on their 2013 numbers Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles combined for 84 runs scored, 20 home runs, and 82 RBI. That would be solid offensive production from one player over the course of a 162 game season. Unfortunately, the downfall of the Chisenhall/Aviles combo lies in the slash line.

While you can live with a .240 average, it’s the .276 OBP and .382 Slugging that are problematic and play a direct role in the lack of projected WAR in this scenario. They just don’t get on base enough, which is no surprise given Chisenhall’s inability to take a walk at this stage of his career. An increase in OBP from .276 to .350 would result in a projected 3.4 WAR. Combine that with a more respectable slugging percentage of .430 and now we’re at a possible 4.4 WAR.

To better gauge how a possible Chisenhall/Aviles platoon would look, I also compared their combined stats to the top third basemen from the American League in 2013. You can see how things compare in the table below.

Third Basemen

American League Third Basemen 2013

There are a few important things to note when comparing the Chisenhall/Aviles platoon to other American League third basemen. The first is the number of plate appearances and at bats. My initial concern was that Chisenhall and Aviles recorded too many of each in 2013 since they played in more than 162 combined games, 218 to be exact. However, the number of plate appearances and at bats they recorded fell in line with the pack. This is probably due in part to the number of games Aviles played as a late inning defensive replacement. In fact, Manny Machado actually had more plate appearances and at bats on his own in far fewer games.

The second note of importance is that just looking at the traditional counting statistics, Chisenhall and Aviles compared favorably to the rest of the pack. However, it was once again the on base and slugging percentages where this potential platoon falls short. The top six third baseman in the American League combined for a .295/.364/.497 slash line compared to Chisenhall and Aviles’ .240/.276/.382. The end result was a significantly stark contrast in WAR. Out of the top six third basemen in the American League, only the Chisenhall/Aviles combination and Seattle’s Kyle Seager register WAR below 5.0.

So could the Indians utilize a third base platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles in 2013? Based solely on the numbers there appears to be some validity in the idea. However, there are many more factors that would play into its potential success or failure that we can’t begin to process by combining their 2013 stats. Namely, can Lonnie Chisenhall smooth out the rough patches in his game like pitch selection and over-aggressiveness at the plate? How does Mike Aviles playing third base full-time against lefties effect Terry Francona’s ability to utilize him at other positions to rest other players? These are things that have to be taken into account.

However the Indians decide to approach the third base position in 2013 there is bound to be ridicule and over analysis all around. Anything short of trading for one of the top six third basemen in the American League is sure to be second guessed. As previously mentioned, patience has worn thin waiting on Lonnie Chisenhall to make the leap to the next level and Mike Aviles is never going to wow anyone with his play. But, when given the chance to succeed and get the most out of their talents, something Terry Francona seems to have a knack for doing, there should be no reason to doubt the potential of a Lonnie Chisenhall/Mike Aviles third base platoon.

Tags: Cleveland Indians Hot Stove Lonnie Chisenhall Mike Aviles Terry Francona Third Base

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