Spring is supposed to be the time when the Cleveland Indians don’t disappoint. It’s the whole point, with hope springing eternal and all that happy nothingness. We have too many months coming up when games matter for me to get bummed out in March. But somehow it’s happened, and I’m screwing up my eyebrows and grunting irritably at a FanGraphs page. Lonnie Chisenhall has made me grumpy.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Chisenhall. This year is supposed to be the one that puts all the struggles and false starts and weak grounders to second base aside and sees Chisenhall arise as the second coming of Alex Gordon and all of us who rooted desperately for him to succeed would be vindicated. That sweet, sassy swing of his was going to shed the streaks and make good, solid, loud contact for six straight months, and maybe a few weeks afterward too.
Then he hurt his wrist and now will be on the disabled list to start the season. I hate wrist injuries no matter the situation. The wrist is the ankle of the arm and after nine combined sprains I recognize the crippling debilitation of an ankle injury. The wrist is pretty much an imperative in baseball, especially the swinging part. Look what happened to Nomar Garciaparra. He hurt his wrist and that was it, he was never the same. He went from the Bostonian rival of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter to some guy in Los Angeles who's married to Mia Hamm.
But it’s not just the wrist injury that got to me. After it happened, I leapt to the stats pages to see what kind of impact that might have on the start to his season. Perhaps he’s a slow starter and it won’t matter, or perhaps he’s been peripherally successful on hart hit rates or some other extrapolation and a later start will somehow be a boon. But upon further digging, it seems more and more that Chisenhall is a bare ruse. Deep down we probably all knew this, but realizing that every time his BABIP normalizes in any way, those stretches where he logs a 120 wRC+ or is clocking clutches of home runs and winning games singlehandedly are the exception, not the norm. There’s no real trend beyond streaky and swing-happy in Chisenhall, and that’s not something to hang any kind of hat on.
He’s got a career 111 wRC+ in the first half of the season, but the 161 outlier in 2014 belies that a bit, and most of THAT comes from that insane stretch in June, highlighted by that three home run, nine RBI game in Texas along with a .371 BABIP.
The second half is worse -- 85 wRC+ but even with that he leads on with a 111 in the second half last year. There’s that BABIP looming though, .359 when he took over in right field. His hard-hit ball rate did jump from 20% at the beginning of the year to 25% when he returned. So that’s something. In fact, for his career he does hit the ball a bit harder after the All-Star break -- 26% of the time compared to just 22% before. Aside from that, there’s spare news to buoy hope for his future. Despite that slashing swing, there’s just not enough line drives coming off the bat. He’s still got upside, but a hurt wrist can kill that real quick.
Plus now I have to watch Marlon Byrd play regularly. That’s not a bad thing really, there just comes a point where having a baseball geriatric (even if 38 in real life is perfectly normal with years of achievement ahead) in the outfield is more a bummer than anything. There’s no hope with Marlon Byrd, no glimmer of a brighter tomorrow because all his tomorrows are our yesterdays. Terry Francona seems happy enough to have the guy on board, saying he knew he’d end up managing Byrd one day, he just figured it’d be with the Phillies. For those that don’t know, Tito managed Philadelphia 16 years ago when Byrd was a prospect in their system.
Byrd is a fine player and has been having a late career renaissance. He’s a couple seasons removed from being worth four wins and has hit 72 home runs the last three years, and it’d be totally dope if he did more of that in Cleveland. Whether Progressive will be as friendly to him as Citizen’s Bank in Philly or Great American in Cincinnati is questionable, but double-digit home runs if he gets the plate appearances is nice. He’s a nice addition to the team though, but he’s still a typical Indians bargain buy. The dreamer in me would rather have something that captures the imagination, that promises some vague future greatness. Unless he really does produce the kind of power like he did in Philly or even with the Mets, then it’s "Lonnie Who?"
Going into the season with a buzzkill on the roster is no fun. We dealt with that for two years when Jeremy Sowers was a starting pitcher. And a couple more with Matt LaPorta, immediately afterward. I am about tired of wasted prospects, so Chisenhall better be good this year or, well, I guess I’ll just move on.
Michael Brantley has a pretty lefty swing, so that could become a greater source of gleeful satisfaction. Certainly can't be Jason Kipnis -- his whole business at the plate is just... too different, is a polite way to put it. Francisco Lindor could work though. That kid is having almost too much fun.
Perhaps this Chisenhall bummer is a blessing in disguise -- I heard Tribe beat writer Jordan Bastian on Baseball Prospectus’s Effectively Wild podcast say that Bradley Zimmer showing up in Cleveland this year is a possibility, if only small to moderate. Could it be that the wrist injury to Chisenhall combined with Father Time finally grabbing hold of Byrd, necessitating a dose of outfield defense, mean we get a Lindorian arrival from young Zimmer? It sure would be the best way to turn the page on one former prospect to a world of new hopes and dreams. If it all breaks wrong in April and May, I will grudgingly accept this outcome.