For those who have read Money Ball or any similar, recent statistical analysis, you already know that situational counting stats, like RBI, wins and saves are considered to be incredibly overrated by the new school. While this is generally discussed with an all encompassing view, Lonnie Chisenhall has provided perfect anecdotal evidence of the same thing with his early season start.
Chisenhall has been destroying baseballs with reckless abandon through the first month of 2014. He leads the Indians in all three rate stats (.389/.441/.519), ranks second in doubles (6) and seventh in hits (21) despite being 11th in at bats (54). The most egregious difference being between him and his “replacement” at third base, Carlos Santana, who has just 16 hits in 105 at bats. Despite all this, Chisenhall has just two RBI on the season, the least amount on the team considering players with at least eight games played.
While some of the issue is that he hasn’t hit a home run yet this year, any player batting near .400 should have accidentally knocked in his fair share of runs. Blame could also be placed on poor play with runners in scoring position, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Chisenhall has only 16 plate appearances out of his 59 with runners on base (Santana has 61 PA with runners on out of 129 total PA). In these at bats, Chisenhall has batted .357 with a walk and HBP while in at bats that are considered clutch, or “high leverage” he has been even better, crushing a .455/.571/.545 line in 11 at bats.
Now the question remains, why has Chisenhall only had eight at bats with runners in scoring position? First, he has batted more out of the nine hole than any other Indians player this year. In addition to getting less at bats than any other player on the team, the ninth hitter generally gets fewer at bats with runners on base. Whatever preconceived notions have kept Chisenhall down over his first four seasons were likely the reason he was kept that low in the lineup despite his hot start. Chisenhall has never been the worst hitter on the team, yet he has always been treated as if he were by the manager, GM and the fans. He has always been the first starter to be benched, the first man to be sent to AAA and the easiest player to pencil in the ninth spot in the order no matter what the other players are doing around him.
This season, David Murphy has been thrown into the same pile and the duo went on to make the eighth and ninth spots of the lineup considerably more productive than the sixth and seventh. This is the first reason Chisenhall has not received scoring opportunities. Out of the six and seven holes, Asdrubal Cabrera and Yan Gomes have been incredibly inefficient and Murphy has been tremendous at knocking them in when they actually do get on base. This has largely the reason that Chisenhall has seen 12 less runners on base compared to the Major League average (33 runners on base in 54 AB).
Although slow on the draw, Chisenhall has finally been moved up in the lineup, culminating in his batting fifth in the last two games. In his most recent game, he finally knocked in his second run of the season. He has hit 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th since spending 12 games in the nine hole and he will continue to be used in this capacity. The Indians are always a little behind in their decision making (like with Carlos Carrasco as a starter) and Terry Francona finally seems to have acknowledged that Chisenhall is having a good year.
The ironic part of the entire situation is that Chisenhall has been off the charts with a .500 BABIP, leading to the extremely high batting average. While a little of that makes up for his horrendous 2013 BABIP of .243, chances are, things are about to drop off for Chisenhall as far as average is concerned, but he will likely see an increase in RBI if he is left in the upper half of the lineup. If this does inevitably occur, there may never have been better proof that runs batted in are no reflection of actual talent.