Lonnie Chisenhall is Barrels or Bust: Bode Plots

Aesthetics do not count in the standings. The Cleveland Indians (20-17) made multiple attempts to give away a four run lead, two players (Carlos Carrasco, Abraham Almonte) left with injuries, and four of the five runs the Tribe scored in the first were due to a slow transfer that allowed Edwin Encarnacion to beat out a double play. However, the Indians offense carried the night as they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays (19-22), 8-7.

Rays starter Chris Archer must wish sometimes the Tribe kept him after drafting him in the fifth round of the 2006 Amateur Draft just so that he would not have to face the Cleveland ballclub. No matter the lineup construction, the Tribe has always given him trouble. The slash line of .277/.357/.491 (158 tOPS+) is the worst he has allowed to any MLB team as is his 1.64 strikeout to walk ratio. Archer cannot blame a lack of run support for his 0-6 lifetime record against the Indians in his six starts.

The Indians had a tough night on the pitching front. Carrasco (3.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO) was off all night, and he left with a strained pectoral muscle in the fourth inning. The injury is not expected to be severe, but it was enough to throw him off and convince manager Terry Francona to remove him from the game. The bullpen started off as they do running through several innings without giving up a run as Nick Goody and Boone Logan breezed through their outings.

It was Bryan Shaw who got himself into a bit of trouble in the seventh by walking two of the first three batters with the Indians up just two runs. In came Andrew Miller. Now, Miller must have been the type of kid who liked to play with fire. Not the ones who eventually smoked out a garage or set their house on fire, but the kids who learned everything they could about the dangerous flames before growing up to become a fantastic fireman who saved countless lives. Rickie Weeks and Derek Norris had no chance as Miller needed just eight pitches to end the inning.

Miller and Cody Allen would each give up a rare run, but Francisco Lindor’s insurance run in the eighth inning ensured that the Tribe would hold on to win. Lindor knew it was gone the moment he connected.

Barrels or Bust

The Tribe would up needing every single one of their four run lead from after the first inning to hold onto the victory. Three of those runs came courtesy of Lonnie Chisenhall who sent the ball away from home plate at 102 miles per hour at a 37 degree angle, which allowed it to travel 367 feet (enough to clear the right field fence at Progressive Field).

The home run was right on the margins of being considered a barrel by the MLB definition. Another note from that definition is how rare barreling the ball can be as it is noted:

The best hitters in baseball, as you’ll see on our leaderboard, manage to barrel up the ball about 10 percent of the time they step to the plate. Across Major League Baseball, the ball is barrelled up in approximately five percent of all plate appearances. That number rises to seven percent if you consider only plate appearances that end with a ball in play.

Chisenhall is not often considered one of the best hitters in baseball though he has a team-leading 143 wRC+ through his .282/.358/.549 slash line. Entering Monday, he was also in the Top 10 in barrels per plate appearance in MLB as he did so 11.4 percent of the time. When only factoring in batted ball events, his percentage rises to over 200% the MLB average at 15.3 percent. The ability to make contact at efficient launch angles with a high exit velocity means that Chisenhall’s swing plane has been sublime in 2017.

courtesy of baseballsavant

The BaseballSavant leaderboard also indicates why Chisenhall has a ways to go before being as touted a power hitter as the other sluggers on the list including Aaron Judge, Ryan Zimmerman, and Miguel Sano. Chisenhall’s average exit velocity overall, on ground balls, on fly balls, and on line drives are all the worst on this list. The lack of top-end exit velocity means that some of Chisenhall’s fly balls would be home runs off these other bats.

courtesy of baseball savant

Chisenhall has a huge ceiling if he can figure out how to hit the ball just a tad harder with the same swing. There is a cluster of batted balls that were outs (black dots) on the borderline of being a barrel, which is where his home run was on Monday. There is another whole slew of batted balls in the light blue hit under category, which could transform from easy outs to extra base hits.

One issue of note though is that while he has the highest hard hit rate of his professional career (30%), he also has the highest soft hit rate (26.7%). Chisenhall is swinging hard, which means he is sometimes going to miss hitting the ball on the barrel. Those mis-hits end in easy outs. This soft contact is indicated by all of the dots in or close to the yellow area.

courtesy of baseballsavant

An optimized swing for pitches either down or away seems ideal for MLB hitters as most pitchers will attempt to locate the majority of their offerings there. Chisenhall has seemed to make just such an adjustment as he is able to get his best contact on those exact pitches. Thus far in 2017, he actually has had more success on the locations pitchers want to throw than he has on belt-high, middle of the plate meatballs.

courtesy of baseballsavant

Pitchers appear to have been slow to recognize Chisenhall’s swing tendencies. On Monday’s home run, even though Archer’s pitch missed when it landed down and inside, Norris had setup down and away, both of which are good locations for Chisenhall’s swing. Most pitchers have been pounding either the down or outside portion of the plate. Chisenhall keeps feasting on those pitches. However, more pitchers have started to lean in on the middle inside quadrant of the plate. If the current offensive explosion is to extend longer than his first half of 2014, then he is going to need to prove he can handle those as well.

Last word

Lonnie Chisenhall has had a good offensive year thus far. There is room for him to reach yet another level if he can figure out how to speed up his bat to obtain even a small amount more exit velocity. There is also the danger of his offense falling off as his peripheral Statcast numbers are behind those around him on the leaderboards. Much of the outcome will likely be determined on how quickly pitchers adjust to his new profile, and how quickly Chisenhall can adjust back.