Should Lonnie Chisenhall‘s Platoon Role Be Expanded?
Ever since he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round (29th pick) of the 2008 the Indians have been waiting for Lonnie Chisenhall‘s bat to come around at the major league level.
The Indians scouts weren’t the only ones sold on his potential. In 2010 Baseball Prospectus wrote that his swing should produce high batting averages and above-average power. A year later they said that he really does have one of the prettiest swings in the minors, as well as solid power. By 2012 his ceiling had been lowered because he chases too many pitches out of the zone and so has never posted a batting average that would catch your eye.
Then prior to the 2013 season Baseball Prospectus lowered his ceiling slightly more due to his struggles against left-handed pitching saying that he could end up a platoon player if he doesn’t start advancing in that realm quickly. Adding that the problems against southpaws make it difficult to see the dreams of hitting .300 that his swing elicits becoming reality.
His career numbers at the major league season were nothing to get excited about posting a triple slash line of just .244/.284/.411 spanning 682 plate appearances. During that time he posted a slash line of .256/.298/.416 with 17 home runs in 553 plate appearances against right-handed pitching while struggling against left-handed pitching hitting just .194/.225/.387 with six home runs in 129 plate appearances.
Since the 2o13 All-Star break Tribe Manager Terry Francona has been very protective of the young Chisenhall holding him to just five plate appearances. In that same span of time he has been given 163 plate appearances against right-handed pitching and has hit .253/.301/.431.
In just 12 games thus his bat has been smoking hitting .432 (16 for 37) with six doubles. Of his 40 plate appearances he has had just one against left-handed pitching and that resulted in a single against the Tigers Phil Coke.
Despite the extremely small samples size the voices on Twitter for Chisenhall to be in the lineup everyday grow louder with each base knock. After all, despite his struggles versus left-handed pitching he did hit them well in his 2011 season when he posted a .260/.288/.600 with five home runs in 52 plate appearances.
An argument can be made that he is currently having success because he is not having to deal with the struggles and residual effects of facing a left hander taking him out of his groove.
The question becomes whether the Indians should risk upsetting his positive momentum by experimenting with exposing him to left-handed pitching?
The best course of action may be to continue sitting him versus left-handed pitching and have him available as a pinch hitter off the bench late in those games.
A similar player who provides plenty of value in the strong side platoon role is Matt Joyce of the Tampa Bay Rays. In his career Joyce has a slash line of .265/.358/.488 with 73 home runs spanning 1,780 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers while he has just 330 plate appearances versus left-handed pitchers resulting in a slash line of .190/.265/.315 with five home runs.
His opportunity against left-handed pitching may come again if he is able to build up a string of positive results when given the opportunity against the opposing relievers who come in late in games when the score is lopsided one way or the other.