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Lonnie Chisenhall has been tattooing the baseball for the Indians. An often effective performer for spurts the past few years, Chisenhall has had a hard time generating much consistency and that has led to him being in an out of the lineup on a regular basis. This year though he's simply hit too well to be ignored. What should you be thinking with Chisenhall as you try to strategically plan out the rest of your 2014 fantasy baseball season? We'll investigate.
Drafted in the 1st round in 2008, Chisenhall was a prospect of note. According to Baseball America he was the 31st and 25th best prospect in baseball in 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus had him at 43rd and 40th. His outlook was roundly regarded as one of extreme possibilities.
As a 20 year old in 2009 he hit .258 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs in 123 games at High A and Double-A ball.
As a 21 year old in 2010 he appeared in 117 games at Double-A batting .278 with 17 homers and 84 RBIs.
Over the past three years his minor league work has been exclusively at the Triple-A level. Those three seasons resulted in a .303 batting average, .374 OBP and .506 SLG over 123 games. He also popped 17 long balls, had 88 RBIs and scored 82 runs.
2011 (66 games): .255-7-22-27 in 212 at-bats with a .699 OPS
2012 (43 games): .268-5-16-16 in 142 at-bats with a .741 OPS
2013 (94 games): .225-11-36-30 in 308 at-bats with a .668 OPS
2011-13 (203 games): .244-23-74-73 with a .694 OPS over 643 at-bats.
2014 (50 games): .365-4-23-26 in 156 at-bats with a .951 OPS.
Chisenhall wasn't an elite prospect, but as I noted talent evaluators always thought he could be an all-star caliber performer in the big leagues. His first three seasons in the bigs we saw spurts of that talent. This year it seems like he's consolidated everything to become all he can be. Let's investigate further.
Chisenhall is a career .268 hitter in 799 at-bats. Seems like a pretty fair mark given his skills, and that means his current .365 mark is in danger of a massive fall (hopefully you already knew that). The first problem, my favorite with young players, is that he doesn't know how to take a walk. In 858 career plate appearances he has 41 walks. Forty one. Teammate Carlos Santana has 47 walks in 232 plate appearances this season. Chisenhall is simply very raw when it comes to this aspect of his game, and that is going to make it difficult to maintain a plus batting average. At least he doesn't swing and miss as much as others with a career K-rate of 18 percent. Still, his 0.26 BB/K ratio is two thirds of the league average. Even this year with all his success the number is still below the league average at 0.36.
Pretty sure two other things are currently out of whack which explains the uptick in his production. He has a 29.8 percent line drive rate. No player who has ever played has done that consistently. The number will shrink substantially, perhaps by 7-10 points. Second, his BABIP is .411. Rarely, like once or twice a decade, does someone finish a season with a mark of .400. Just not sustainable is that pace. If we backtrack things to the start of 2013, guess what we find? How about a BABIP of .305. What is the league average? It's in the .290-300 range. Last years .243 was far too low. This years .411 far too high. Add them together and we get... normal.
Chisenhall lifts the ball at a decent rate. For his career his fly ball rate is about 40 percent, above the 34 or so percent that is usually the league average. That affords him the chance to hit 20+ homers over the course of a season even if he's only sporting a basically league average 10.6 percent career HR/F rate.
PLAYING TIME CONSIDERATIONS
A third sacker by trade, Chisenhall has played 11 games at first based and 24 at third. However, there's an issue revolving around playing time once everyone is healthy with the Indians. Ideally Yan Gomes will catch, Nick Swisher will play first base and Carlos Santana will man the hot corner. The club could move Swisher to the outfield or DH, but with Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and David Murphy in the outfield they should have a fairly stable unit. Jason Kipnis is back at second, so the team will also have to be creative to find Mike Aviles at-bats. The bottom line for me is that it's hard to envision a scenario in which Chisenhall plays in more than 75 percent of the games the rest of the way if the club stays healthy (to this point he's appeared in 50 of the Indians 63 games or 79 percent... and he's batting .365).
Lonnie Chisenhall has had a phenomenal start to the season for the Indians. He's going so well right now that he's pretty much a must start in virtually every format. However, he doesn't own the skills to be a .300 hitter long-term, and that's scary when you see his .365 average. He's also nothing other than a solid home run option at the third base position. Not one to add anything on the base paths, Chisenhall will need to power the ball into the seats with frequency in order to maintain his spot in mixed league lineups.
10 team lg: You can ride anyone when they are this hot in shallow leagues. Just be ready to cut him when the tailspin starts.
12 team lg: Has to be starting right now unless you were fortunate on draft day. Best used as a corner infield option, his outlook depends on the relative strength/weakness of your club. Ideally he would be a corner infield option that you look to parlay in a trade to get a piece that has a better outlook the rest of the way.
15 team lg: When you get a guy like this for basically free, you either added him off waivers or drafted him in the 28th round, you don't want to look that gift horse in the mouth. He's certainly got a chance to be a player that could provide strong year long value in this format.
AL-only: He's having a difference making season. Even if he slows substantially your investment in him, whatever it was, has already been met. It's just gravy from here on out. Might be wise to keep a close eye on him though. When the average starts to fall you might want to see if you can convince someone that he's the second coming of George Brett.
To see where Chisenhall ranks ROTW, click on the link to our Player Rankings.