Last week, we took a look at the 2013 performances of three Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Asdrubal Cabrera. Next up on our report card: the rest of the infielders – and Jason Giambi.
This was supposed to be Lonnie Chisenhall’s year. That smooth swing was finally supposed to translate into Chisenhall staking his claim at the hot corner for years to come.
Well, things didn’t exactly go as planned. The third baseman, in his third year with the big-league club, took a major step back this season. Despite putting on a clinic at the plate in spring training, Chisenhall couldn’t carry his preseason success into the regular season. He was sent down to Triple-A Columbus on May 13, rocking a horrendous .213 average and having hit just three long-balls and driven in 11 runs.
After he had seemingly found his groove again in Columbus, the Tribe decided to bring him back up in mid-June. After showing some signs of improvement, Chisenhall quickly tumbled back down to mediocrity during a month of August that saw him hit at an awful .145 clip. He finished the season with this disappointing stat line: .225 AVG./11 HR/36 RBI. Chisenhall proved that he still can’t hit against lefties, as he collected just four hits in 36 at-bats against southpaws. He was equally horrid in the field, making nine errors en route to a .955 fielding percentage.
Chisenhall’s one saving grace was his final game, which took place during the Indians’ short-lived postseason appearance. He served as one of the Tribe’s only offensive forces in the AL Wild Card game against Tampa Bay, going 3-4 after many questioned whether he should have even been in the starting lineup.
Final grade: D
Acquired via an offseason trade with Toronto that shipped reliever Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays and Aviles and Yan Gomes to Cleveland, Aviles was expected to be a versatile bench presence for the Tribe who could step in and fill any infield spot at any time.
Aviles lived up to these expectations, making 12 appearances at second, 56 appearances at third, and 46 at short (the majority of which came during Asdrubal Cabrera’s absence from the lineup due to injury). The 32-year-old even played a few games in the outfield.
His defensive ability has never jumped out as being spectacular, but it gets the job done. All in all, the utility man made eight errors in 845 innings of work at five different positions. Not too shabby.
Offensively, Aviles played right up to par with his previous two seasons, where he hit .255 and .250, respectively. He struggled mightily in the clutch, though, batting just .232 with runners in scoring position. A final stat line of .252/9 HR/46 RBI for a utility man is really not all that bad, but still leaves a bit to be desired.
Final grade: C+
After posting one of the most impressive months of his career to start the 2013 season, it appeared that Carlos Santana was finally going to emerge as the All-Star-caliber player that many anticipated he would eventually become. The 27-year-old switch-hitter reached base on a ridiculous 47.6 % of his plate appearances during the month of April while also smacking five home runs and driving in 13 runs.
And then he crashed back down to Earth. Hard. Santana hit .224 over the next two months, though his walk rates still remained high. He remained relatively consistent for the rest of the season, although he continued moving through his typical course of peaks and valleys – none to the extreme of his April-May differential (.389 AVG. vs. .200), though.
Though his power numbers were nothing extraordinary (20 homers, 74 RBI), Santana was consistently able to reach base. He finished second in the American League in walks (93) and eighth in on-base percentage (.377). This is a key area in which Santana excells but receives little credit from fans for. Santana was an extremely important piece of the Indians’ lineup this season, and he deserved to be recognized as such.
Defense was a completely different story, as expected. It was no secret heading into the season that Santana was one of the game’s worst defensive catchers. The effort was certainly there behind the plate, but the struggles continued nonetheless in 2013. He threw out just 17.7 % of basestealers, one of baseball’s worst marks and Santana’s worst of his career. Santana’s insufficiences behind the dish, paired along with the emergence of Yan Gomes as an all-around solid catcher, contributed to Santana spending most of the latter part of the season at first base and DH. Expect more of the same next year.
Final grade: B+
As the second piece of the Tribe’s offseason trade with the Blue Jays, Gomes arrived in Cleveland as little more than a backup option to Lou Marson. When Marson went down early in the season, the Indians brought Gomes up to take his place.
In Toronto, Gomes exhausted his rookie eligibility by spending most of his 43 games played in 2012 at first base. There was uncertainty amongst the Indians’ coaching staff and front office as to whether the Brazilian prospect would be able to handle playing primarily at catcher. Gomes did more than just handle his duties, as he excelled in all areas of the position: game-calling, blocking, and throwing out basestealers – all areas where Santana struggled mightily.
Gomes threw out 40.8 % of runners, which ranked him fourth among catchers with more than 75 games played at the position. His presence behind the plate had an obvious impact on the club’s pitching staff, as well, a notion supported by his 3.59 catcher’s earned run average – a mark that ranked him ninth among catchers with more than 75 appearances. Compare that to Santana’s mark of 4.01.
The 26-year-old made serious strides at the plate in 2013, also, serving as one of the team’s most consistent bats all season long. Though he definitely needs to work on his patience at the plate (just 18 walks in 88 total games played), Gomes proved his worth as a legitimate offensive force by hitting .294 with 11 homers and 38 RBI.
If not for his brief appearance in the majors last season, there’s little doubt that Gomes would be a candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year award this year.
Final grade: A
The Giambino served as a spark plug for an Indians roster that was made up of a rather unorthodox mix of veterans and youngsters. As I’ve said all season long, Giambi was as close to a player-manager as we’re going to see in today’s modern era of baseball. A managerial opportunity awaits this well-traveled former AL MVP, but the big man’s already stated that he’s not quite ready to call it quits as a player just yet.
All good things from within the clubhouse and dugout aside, Giambi was mostly awful at the plate in 2013. He failed to reach the .200 average mark (.183) and struck out 56 times in just 186 at-bats. It can be said, however, that he showed the knack for delivering in the clutch that you might expect from a guy who has spent nearly 20 years in the big leagues, as he has. With runners in scoring position, the 42-year-old hit .271 while driving in 25 runs in just 48 such at-bats.
And who could forget his two incredibly dramatic walk-off home runs? He is now the oldest big leaguer to ever hit a walk-off homer, by the way (his second walk-off dinger in 2013 replaced the record set when he hit his first).
Giambi never saw the field defensively, and for good reason. I’d rather see Mark Reynolds out there again over Giambi (for those who care, Reynolds gets a generous D+ for his time spent in Cleveland this season).
Final grade: C+
Opening photo credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images