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Tribe Happenings: Loss of Chisenhall hurts

Tribe Happenings: Loss of Chisenhall hurts
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Chisenhall out longer than expected

The Indians got some bad news earlier this past week when it was discovered that third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall will be out for 10-12 weeks to recover from the broken bone in his right forearm.

Chisenhall fractured his right ulna bone when he was hit by a pitch during the Indians trip in Baltimore last weekend, and had surgery last Saturday to repair the fracture. Initially the Indians thought he would only be out 4-6 weeks, but when Dr. Tom Graham went in to do the procedure they found the fracture was closer to the joint, which required a longer healing process and thus the additional six weeks to the original time he was expected to be out.

This is bad news as it now means that Chisenhall will probably miss the rest of the season.

If things go really well with Chisenhall’s rehab and he only needs the ten weeks, then he could be back in mid-September. But if he needs the full 12 weeks it would carry him through the rest of the season, so chances are he has played in his last game in 2012. Now that he is going to be out for a considerable amount of time, if the Indians at some point need a spot on the 40-man roster he will likely be moved to the 60-day disabled list.

The injury is a blow to both the Indians and Chisenhall as he looked to be starting to come into his own offensively. In 24 games this year in Cleveland he was hitting .278 with 3 HR, 9 RBI, and .756 OPS, and in his last ten games hit .367 with 1 HR, 6 RBI and 1.006 OPS. With Jack Hannahan struggling since his return from the disabled list, and his propensity over the last two years to get hurt and go through long dry spells, it hurts as the Indians now lack a good alternative to turn to at third base.

Chisenhall has always hit right-handers well in the minors and has done so in his short big league career, but lefties continue to be a problem for him. He was hitting .333 with an .894 OPS against righties and .000 with a .077 OPS against lefties (12 at bats) this season. Small sample size be damned, even with the return of Travis Hafner he could have still been a part of the Indians’ lineup and played regularly at third base and then have Hannahan or Jose Lopez platoon with him and sit him against most lefties.

However, the Indians probably would have opted to stick with Hannahan at third base and send Chisenhall down to Columbus when Hafner was activated from the disabled list this week. The reasoning behind this is simple as it would have offered Chisenhall the opportunity to play every day and continue to work on hitting left-handed pitching, something that the team could ill afford to have him do in Cleveland while in a pennant race at the big league level.

The injury also gives Hannahan some extended life in Cleveland. Chisenhall is the future at third base for the Indians, and he very well could have been in the process of taking over full time third base duties before the unfortunate injury. Had Chisenhall taken over at third base, it would have left Hannahan without a position, and pushed him into a utility role or potentially been traded away.

If you ask me, I think the writing is on the wall with Hannahan. Assuming Chisenhall comes back fully healthy, the Indians almost have to go with Chisenhall as their third baseman next year, which would make Hannahan expendable in the offseason.

Hannahan will be entering into his second arbitration year and may command as much as $2-3 million next season, so the Indians may decide to look for cheaper options to sign as non-roster invites to spring training as depth options behind Chisenhall. Bringing Hannahan back at $2-3 million is certainly plausible, and they may opt for it as insurance for Chisenhall and to use him in a utility role, though he is a luxury they can really not afford to have when they need to maximize the bench with right-handed bats to give them more flexibility with the lineup. In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens on that front several months from now.

The bottom line is this, the Indians are at a point where they need to sink or swim with Chisenhall at third base. That time may have been now had he not gotten hurt, but now has been pushed to the start of next season. That along with the loss of his bat is why his injury hurts.

Inside the numbers

The Indians offense has had its ups and downs this season and been a focal point for the frustration of the fans. But through the first 81 games this season at the season’s official halfway point, the offense actually was a smidge better than it was last season. Here is a breakdown of the Indians numbers this season vs. last season at the 81-game mark:

  2011 2012
Average .250 .257
Average with RISP .273 .253
On-base percantage .319 .332
Slugging percentage .396 .397
Doubles 147 146
Triples 14 14
Home runs 74 72
Walks 254 294
Runs 351 366

The Indians rank 6th in the American League in runs scored (372), 5th in doubles (148), 6th in triples (14), 11th in home runs (75), 2nd for fewest strikeouts (528), 2nd in walks (301), 7th in stolen bases (58), 9th in batting average (.257), 3rd in on-base percentage (.332), 10th in slugging percentage (.398), and 8th in OPS (.730). In a nutshell, they have done a very good job of limiting strikeouts and drawing walks, but have struggled hitting for power, particularly home runs.

While they certainly need to get going and need some help, the Indians have been about league average offensively. The area where the Indians need the most improvement internally and also help externally is their pitching as that is an area that has seen a significant drop in performance from last season to this season:

  2011 2012
ERA 3.96 4.54
Strikeouts per 9 innings 6.24 6.52
Walks per 9 innings 2.77 3.42
HR per 9 innings 0.90 0.98
Batting average against .259 .260
OPS against .717 .737
WHIP 1.30 1.38

Indians pitching ranks 13th in the American League in ERA (4.54), 3rd for most walks (283), 12th in strikeouts (539), 4th for fewest home runs against (81), 11th in batting average against (.260), 10th in OPS against (.737), 12th in WHIP (1.38), and 14th in strikeout to walk ratio (1.90).

Indians pitchers are giving up the same amount of hits this year as they did last year, but two things are hurting them more this year: they are walking a lot more batters and they are giving up more extra base hits. Those two things combined can lead to some ugly outings, the thus their poor showing in the first half.  Being ranked dead last in strikeout to walk ratio is a byproduct of their high walk rate and a groundball pitching staff that racks up groundball outs more than strikeouts, but this is also a very disappointing number to be ranked so low.

Without Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez in the back of the bullpen those numbers would be even uglier, and those two have arguably been the most important players to the team this year and really covered up some huge pitching problems for the team.

If the Indians have any visions of contending into September and making the playoffs, the Indians pitching needs to be a lot better. Sure, the hitting needs to be better too, but not many teams that sit near the bottom in almost every pitching category have a very successful season. This is why the Indians are not just looking to acquire pitching prior to the July trade deadline, but also why it may be their biggest priority.

Lineup coming around, but still needs a bat

As noted above, the Indians offense has been around league average offensively, which is amazing when you consider how consistent they have been up and down the lineup. While shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo have all been good, consistent contributors that have been near the top at their respective positions, the rest of the lineup has been inconsistent due to injuries or poor play.

The trio of Choo, Cabrera, and Kipnis at the top of the order is about as good as you are going to find around baseball. The problem is the Indians lack run producers hitting in the fourth through sixth spots in the lineup.

Catcher Carlos Santana has been a big disappointment in the first half and has battled a few injuries. Designated hitter Travis Hafner got off to a great start the first three weeks of the season but has struggled with his performance since then and missed over a month with a knee injury. Also, no disrespect to Michael Brantley, but for as good as he is going of late, he is not a guy that should be hitting fifth or sixth in the lineup as a run producer. He is barely a league average offensive player that is a very good option to have hitting somewhere between seventh and ninth in the lineup.

The Indians have gotten by with the combination of Hannahan, Chisenhall and Lopez at third base as Tribe third baseman are 6th in the American League in batting average (.268), 12th in home runs (7), 5th in RBI (48), and 8th in OPS (.724). That’s not awful production, and in a solid lineup is something that is fine in the eighth or ninth spot in the lineup.

The problem though is Santana’s big drop in production, Hafner’s injury and consistency woes, and then two positions left field and first base where the Indians are near the worst in the league offensively at both positions.  Indians’ first basemen rank 11th in the American League in batting average (.225), 14th in home runs (9), 11th in RBI (36), and 13th in OPS (.629). Indians’ left fielders rank 13th in the American League in batting average (.202), 12th in home runs (8), 11th in RBI (31), and 14th in OPS (.606).

Hopefully the return of Hafner helps add some length to the lineup because if he is healthy and performing just at a level like he has the last three seasons, then he will help the lineup. It pushes a guy like Brantley to sixth or seventh in the order, and also strengthens the bench by keeping guys like Lopez and Shelley Duncan in more limited roles off the bench.

In the end, the lineup has the pieces to be good if Santana can turn things around in the second half and the rest of the lineup avoids injuries. Choo, Cabrera, Kipnis, Hafner, Brantley and Santana are good core pieces to any lineup; the Indians just lack that one bat – a right-handed power one – to bring it all together. Hopefully the Indians can find a bat between now and the trade deadline, because that run producing bat appears to be the linchpin and key to turning this offense into a good one.

Marson steps up

With Carlos Santana going down at the end of May and struggling since his return, the Indians depth at catcher has really been tested the past several weeks. While Santana returned a few weeks ago, he has not been the same since coming back, and as a result backup catcher Lou Marson has played a lot the past month.

With increased playing time Marson has looked more comfortable at the plate, and while he has almost no power he has been a quality hitter each night he is in the lineup and right now is hard to take out of the lineup.  Here is what Marson has done since Santana got hurt on May 25th in Chicago:

Lou Marson: 19 G, .393/.472/.525, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 9 BB, 11 K, 61 AB

That’s pretty darn good and something any manager would be very happy to have at the bottom of their batting order. He is putting up good at bats, consistently making contact, drawing walks, and even getting some extra base hits.

Marson has dispelled any thoughts from earlier in the season that he is not a Major League player, as there were several naysayers when he was struggling earlier in the season saying he was a poor catching option at the Major League level. He’s actually the perfect backup catching option as he is young, inexpensive, under control for a long time, is a good defender, puts up quality at bats, and still has some upside as a starting catching option.

That upside as a potential starting catcher is something that could draw some interest from other teams when talking to the Indians about a trade this month, so it will be interesting to see what happens on that front. He is heading for arbitration this offseason so he is going to start to get more expensive, so the Indians at some point could look to move him. He would be attractive in any deal since the acquiring team would be getting a player with three years of club control beyond this season.

But at the moment Marson may be too valuable to the Indians to trade especially considering the return for a backup catcher would not be great. Not to mention that return probably would fall well short of the value he brings to the team as a suitable catching option while Santana struggles.

Cabrera, Perez named as All Stars, again

For the second consecutive season the Indians will send both shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Chris Perez to the All Star game.

Perez, 27, is 2nd in the Major Leagues with 24 saves, and in 33 appearances this season is 0-1 with a 2.59 ERA (31.1 IP, 25 H, 7 BB, 32 K).  He is currently in the midst of a 24 consecutive save streak, which is the second longest in franchise history to Jose Mesa’s 38 straight in 1995.  He is the first Indians reliever to be named to consecutive All Star games since Mesa in 1995-96.

Cabrera, 26, is hitting .291 with 11 HR, 42 RBI, and .845 OPS in 75 games. Among American League shortstops he ranks 4th in batting average (.291), 2nd in HR (11), 2nd in RBI (42), 3rd in runs (43), and 1st in OPS (.845 and by 75 points over the 2nd place guy).  The last Indians shortstop to make consecutive All-Star teams was Omar Vizquel in 1998-99.

The All Star game is on Tuesday night July 10th in Kansas City, and will air on FOX at 7:30 PM ET.

Parting shots

The rumor mill is starting to churn as the Indians have been tied to several players expected to be traded this month, namely Brewers outfielder Cory Hart, Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin, Cubs right-handed pitcher Matt Garza, and they have even been mentioned as suitors for Padres third baseman Chase Headley, though that appears to be a longshot. … On Saturday the Indians optioned left-handed pitcher Nick Hagadone to Triple-A Columbus. He has loads of talent and can strike batters out (9.2 K/9), but had trouble throwing strikes (5.3 BB/9) and getting results (6.39 ERA). It may be awhile before he comes back to Cleveland, and in the meantime lefty Scott Barnes is expected to be called up today to fill the role as the second lefty in the Indians’ pen. … The Indians granted Triple-A Columbus right-hander Chris Ray his outright release on Saturday. He was a non-roster invite to big league camp in spring training and in 33 appearances at Columbus was 2-4 with a 2.75 ERA with 11 saves.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Tony
July 9, 2012 - 4:32 PM EDT
Chip, as far as I know, the fracture is something that should not affect him in the future. Supposedly will return 100% and without any issues provided it heals properly. I do agree though that it really hurts when a guy like Chisenhall or Santana get hurt because in the end they end up missing so much valuable development time in the early part of their career.
Bric
July 9, 2012 - 12:53 AM EDT
You catch a 91 mph slider; you can hit a 91 mph slider.
You catch a 97 mph fastball; you can hit a 97 mph fastball.
You weigh a solid 200 pounds, you can hit it out of the IF.
Marson can be a good player for years to come.
Santana makes some great plays at C, but if he can't hit at
that position, then they need to DH him next year.
Kotchman is looking better all the time at the plate.
Chip
July 8, 2012 - 11:12 AM EDT
Tony,

Is Chisenhall's injury a concern in that it'll cause any long-term issues down the road, or is it mainly a case of just waiting for it to heal up properly? I hate when our young players get knocked out with season-ending injuries (Santana a couple years back, now Chisenhall). Very frustrating, but I always worry more about any lasting problems these injuries could cause. Just wondering if you had any insight.
Rich
July 8, 2012 - 8:29 AM EDT
Chiz was on fire with that .367 BA over the last ten games. And before we write him off against lefties, don't forget that he hit 5 HR's in only 50 AB's against lefties last year for a .888 OPS. Yes, it's a tiny sample size, but those are still great numbers.

As for the pitching, the walks are up significantly, but a lot of that was due to Masterson and Ubaldo's wildness in April and May. Masterson's walks allowed for April, May, and June were 17, 17, and 9. Ubaldo's were 14, 28, and 11. Both pitchers have cut down their walks by about 50% from May to June in a similar number of innings. Also, their ERA's for June were 2.06 for Masterson and 2.78 for Jimenez. These guys getting back on track has been huge and if they can keep it going the Tribe should stay in contention, especially since they have easiest schedule of any AL Central team in the second half.

The main problem is they have the worst offense in the AL in left field and the second worst at first base. With the way Marson has been hitting, I can see using Santana at first base a lot more often in place of Kotchman, who flashes here and there but has yet to get going with the bat.

As for left field, Duncan is rolling right now with 4 HR's in his last six games, so let's roll with him for a while and see if he can have another month like last September. When his hot streak peters out I'd like to see Fedroff or Canzler get a shot if they can't trade for a bat without getting raped for prospects.

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