Lonnie Chisenhall: Flyball Connoisseur

(ESPN.com)

Flyballs. It’s the sabermetric and baseball buzzword for the year and for good reason. Flyballs can transform careers, making players into offensive juggernauts. But there is always a breaking point and a balance to be found for each and every player.

Much of the spotlight has been focused in on the guys who have started to hit flyballs above league norms, the guys who never showed any serious power. But lost in some of the limelight are the guys who had always hit a high number of flyballs but have since increased their usage even more.

Enter Lonnie Chisenhall. Never has the Cleveland 3B/OF been an extreme flyball hitter but he started to undergo a rather dramatic shift in the middle of last year.

(FanGraphs)

That rise in FB% is incredibly dramatic, but absolutely too far an extreme for a player like Chisenhall to go. Chisenhall understandably struggled in the second half, posting an 85 wRC+ compared to the 117 wRC+ he put up in the first half.

The flyball rise has continued into 2017 but has been subdued. Chisenhall has posted a FB% of 50.5% in 2017, 9 percentage points higher than last year’s average.

His wRC+ this year? 150 (103 in 2016).

Slash line? .298/.356/.618 (.286/.328/.439 in 2016).

Chisenhall has exploded for an incredible amount of power this year.

(FanGraphs)

Lonnie Chisenhall has never hit for power like this at any point in his career, so what the hell is going on?

Well the flyballs are a large part as to what’s going on. It’s hard to imagine Chisenhall putting up a .321 ISO without hitting a healthy amount of balls in the air. Just as important as it is to put the ball in the air, it’s important to square up the ball as well.

Chisenhall is destroying baseballs this year. His Hard% this year is up to 33.6%, up from last years 26.4% mark and his career 25.4% mark.

So does anything look particularly different in how Chisenhall’s hitting the ball? Let’s take a look at a spray chart from 2016.

(Baseball Savant)

Pretty evenly spread spray chart but definitely lacking in power. I’m sure many of those balls in the right center gap went for doubles but you’d like to see more balls that made it over the fence. Let’s see how things are looking in 2017.

(Baseball Savant)

He’s just smoking the ball to all fields, doing serious damage on flyballs to the pull side. This year he has barreled 13.3% of all his balls in play, up there with hitters like Gary Sanchez and Michael Conforto. Last year he barreled 2.8% of his balls in play, a pitifully low rate putting him amongst struggling hitters such as Cameron Maybin and A.J. Ellis.

To showcase some of his power, here’s what that red dot far back in right center looked like:

What has been fueling his tear this year? It seems to be a mix of better overall health paired with new batted ball tendencies. Chisenhall has had a change in his workouts, but this year could be a change in general health as he isn’t dealing with a lingering abdomen injury from last year.

Whatever the reason may be, Chisenhall is hitting the ball harder than ever before. He has found a happier medium for his flyball tendencies and his improved strength and health have seen a pretty substantial translation to the field. Getting the ball in the air is half of what it takes to hit for power, and Lonnie Chisenhall is starting to provide the other half of equation and connecting with some hard contact.