One of the more intriguing subplots created by the lack of offseason moves was the opportunity that afforded for several unproven players to show — once and for all — whether they could cut it as regulars for a major league team.
Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Carrasco had both teased us with flashes of talent in sporadic stretches but mostly left us wanting to see more. More production and consistency.
This season was going to be the one to see if they had it.
This was it. The training wheels were off. Put up or shut up.
We were all going to find out—presumably sooner rather later—if they would be part of the Tribe’s future plans.
And after just two months, the results were in.
It was an emphatic “yes” for Chisenhall, while Carrasco’s pitching provided a decisive “no.” Chisenhall, it seemed, would patrol third base for the foreseeable future and Carrasco, if he’s lucky, might have a spot in the bullpen.
However, in the spirit of the newly implemented replay system, it turns out we needed to take a better look.
And after further review in the form of 122 games…
We got nothing. We don’t know. We’re out of answers and tired of guessing.
In other words, we’re back where we started from.
If anything, Chisenhall and Carrasco’s precarious seasons have produced more questions than answers.
While they both are currently straddling the equator in terms of projecting as major-league regulars, Chisenhall and Carrasco’s respective journeys have been routed through the north and south poles.
Chisenhall, who shocked the Indians and the league with his torrid start, entered Tuesday hitting .195 since his average ballooned to .393 in early June following his three-home run, nine-RBI performance on June 9.
Since then, Chisenhall’s success at the plate has suffered a drop off of Mark Reynolds proportion.
Terry Francona, it appears has also lost confidence in Chisenhall—at least when it comes to pitting him against left-handed pitching. It’s no secret that a major hole in Chisenhall’s game has long been his struggles against lefties.
And though it was entirely unreasonable to expect him to continue the 13-for-25 clip he held following his nine-RBI game, his performance against southpaws since then has provided a harsh dose of reality — as well as forced Francona’s hand. Since June 9, he has gone 9-for-42 against southpaws — a paltry and likely more realistic .214 mark.
Chisenhall’s aggregate average for the season against lefties still sits at a robust .328 mark, but this high number is merely being strung along by a manager reluctant to play the third-baseman every day. After all, Francona hasn’t penciled Chisenhall into the lineup against a left-handed pitcher since July 24 against Kansas City’s Danny Duffy.
Perhaps Chisenhall’s rapid descent was all set up there for us in front of our face by his equally inexplicable offensive explosion. And that our wishful thinking got in the way of our better judgment.
All indications are that this is the case.
First off, Chisenhall’s BABIP as of June 11 was .428. Since then, it has straddled the .230 mark.
As his unsustainably high BABIP would suggest, Chisenhall was simply having more success with squaring pitches up. It certainly didn’t result from a more disciplined approach — he was chasing pitches out of the zone 38 percent of the time, a number that has remained high for the entire season.
Unlike Carrasco, who was named to the starting rotation in spring training, Chisenhall had to play his way into the lineup to displace an out-of-place Carlos Santana at third. And unlike Carrasco, Chisenhall has legitimate talent gunning for his position in Giovanny Urshela, who is enjoying a breakout season in Columbus.
Urshela is hitting .284 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs in 92 games with the Clippers, and perhaps just as important, possesses the solid glove Chisenhall always lacked, having committed just four errors during that time. Chisenhall, meanwhile, has made 16 errors this season — third most among starting Major League third basemen.
Chisenhall’s rapid descent to the ground has seemingly occurred whilst facing Carrasco at the opposite end of the teeter-totter.
His production has been night-and-day. During his four April starts, he went 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA. In his 26 relief appearances that followed, Carrasco managed a 2.30 ERA. Since being reassigned to the rotation on Aug. 10 against the Yankees, Carrasco has thrown 12 scoreless innings and hasn’t walked a batter.
As we know, everything Carrasco does hinges on his confidence. When he’s throwing at batters’ heads or he’s refusing to throw his fastball despite being emphatically ordered to do so – as he did in a disastrous spring training loss to Oakland — you can be sure the Progressive Field scoreboard operator is earning his paycheck.
But that’s not the Carrasco we’ve seen since he’s re-entered the rotation. In a small sample size, this Carrasco has thrown all four of his pitches for strikes.
In his last start Saturday, Carrasco showed poise with his mid-90s fastball by throwing the heater better than 50 percent of the time. In turn, he was able to mix in his secondary pitches successfully, inducing a 66 percent whiff rate when throwing his slider and changeup.
Could it be simply a case of Carrasco developing a more confident mental outlook out of the bullpen that he has since carried over as a starter?
Perhaps. After all, it was Carrasco who approached Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash with the idea in late July of a another shot at starting.
But it could also be contended, that improved mechanics have played a part in Carrasco’s success. Since returning to the rotation, Carrasco has worked exclusively out of the stretch, a move that served him well in the bullpen and might help lessen any extra movement in his delivery that prevents him from staying repeatable.
In any event, the results have been unmistakable.
In his two starts, Carrasco has thrown better than 69 percent of his pitches for strikes and started 28 of the 40 batters he’s faced with first-pitch strikes.
With his fastball that approaches 100 miles an hour, we’ve heard plenty of times how good Carrasco’s stuff is. Could it be that we’re finally seeing the pitcher we had seen very fleeting glimpses of the past couple years?
While we likely won’t know until we see more starts from the 27-year-old, it is all but guaranteed that we will indeed see more of him as a starter. If nothing else, Carrasco’s sterling starts coupled with Cleveland’s lack of quality starting pitching all but guarantees he will have an opportunity as part of the rotation the rest of this season and possibly next year, especially if he continues to succeed.
The same isn’t such a clear proposition at the hot corner for Chisenhall, however. Should he continue to struggle at the plate and in the field, it would be hard not to take a look at Urshela at some point next season.
This begs the question of which former touted-prospect-turned-major-league-project has the better chance to succeed for the Indians?
At this point, the fluid answer is Carrasco.
While it may seem like I’m just favoring the current flavor of the month in Carrasco, but the simple fact is that there are more opportunities for a live arm like his on a pitching-starved club like the Tribe.