Stevie Wonder had a majestic hit in 1985 with words that make you want to sway your head:
We are undercover passion on the run
Chasing love up against the sun
We are strangers by day, lovers by night
Knowing it’s so wrong, but feeling so right
The words just seem to fit Indians’ outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Personally, my fandom of Chisenhall has been a bit…off…for years. I own a No.27 shersey, which isn’t quite as embarrassing as the time I purposely bought tickets and attended a Britney Spears concert that had LFO as an opening act. Pathetic. Also pathetic…expecting Chisenhall to become an All-Star based on his superb season in 2017.
The Part-Time Superstar
It’s very wrong to think that Chisenhall is suddenly an everyday player. Sure, he hit a robust .340/.456/.511 in 2017 against left-handed pitching…in a whopping (sarcastic) 60 plate appearances. That so-called breakout against southpaws left his career line at just .251/.313/.386 with a .135 ISO, .307 wOBA, and a 93 wRC+.
There are reasons to love what Chisenhall did last year. The Indians needed him to rake with Michael Brantley hurt and he did just that, posting a .305/.376/.578 triple-slash prior to his calf injury in July. Unfortunately, he returned and hit just .224/.296/.306 and struck out 16 times in 49 at-bats. Gross.
After eliminating all of his career at-bats against left-handed pitchers, Chisenhall still has a .269/.318/.435 line, a .166 ISO, .325 wOBA, and a 104 wRC+. He’s just slightly better than average, even in a platoon role.
Certainly, Chisenhall made some huge strides in 2017, particularly early on. He took more pitches – he even took some walks! – and his 12 home runs were a career-high, even though they came in just 270 plate appearances. Still, he isn’t someone who warrants playing 162 games, and that’s coming from someone who has had an illegitimate fascination with his ability from the onset of his career.
“Lonnie Baseball” is a good baseball player. He is even better when you can protect him from his weaknesses. While his growth in 2017 was exceptional, the Indians don’t need to trust him over a 162 game season as their everyday right fielder. He just isn’t that guy, as evidenced by the projections that he has received.
- Baseball Prospectus: 0.8 WARP
- Depth Charts: 0.6 WAR
- Steamer: 0.8 WAR
- ZiPS: 0.2 WAR
The predictions seem to lean towards Tyler Naquin playing a larger role in the Tribe outfield in 2018, which is interesting when you consider that he has a brief history (44 plate appearances in 33 games) against left-handed pitching; however, that role could be fulfilled by Rajai Davis or a healthy Brandon Guyer as a strict platoon-mate with Chisenhall.
Expect a solid season of Chisenhall producing at respectable levels while getting more plate appearances due to being on the strong-side of the platoon…but do so without expecting him to become something he’s never been – an All-Star or elite talent. It feels so right to like him, but it’s so wrong to want more. Thanks, Stevie.
Feature Image: Courtesy – Erik Drost, Flickr