Last week was the best of the Indians season, as they swept the Tigers and won back-to-back 13-inning games. They went on to split with the Orioles at Camden Yards. That stretch obscured what has become increasingly obvious over the first seven weeks of the season: the Tribe’s defense is all kinds of inept.

According to Fangraphs, the Indians rank 29th in team defense, which is dead last among Major League teams (the Houston Astros rank 30th). The Indians are the league’s worst — and that includes the Astros — in errors (52), defensive runs saved (-43), and Nick Swishers on the Field (1). The triumvirate of Carlos Santana (6), Lonnie Chisenhall (8), and Mike Aviles (1) have combined for 15 errors at third base in just 52 games. Yan Gomes has committed exactly 9 errors in his 41 games behind the plate, or three times the amount he committed in 85 games last year. Personally, I’m not nearly as worried about Yan Gomes as I am about the situation at third base, but it’s important to acknowledge that the Indians defensive plight is truly a team effort.

Out of the top 70 MLB players that are ranked unfavorably in terms of defensive runs saved (DSR), nine are Indians — Nick Swisher, David Murphy, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Bourn. If Morgan and Kipnis were not on the disabled list, it would be feasible for the Indians to start nine players that defensively rank in the bottom quarter of MLB. Even without those two, the Indians are regularly playing seven guys that are sub-par at getting outs.

Yes, baseball is a simple game, we learned by watching Bull Durham:  you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. The Indians are doing the first two things just fine, sometimes with great efficiency. But they are lollygagging all over the infield and outfield, and struggling mightily to catch the damn ball.

Nick Swisher has been the hardest to watch. He seems incapable of making above average plays, and he is missing a lot of the routine ones, too. Take this play from April 8th, for instance:

Swisher has been charged with just 6 errors in 44 games. I say “just” because it feels like a hundred. For frame of reference, over the span of 112 games last season, Swisher committed 8 errors.

Cheering for Nick Swisher the first baseman is akin to cheering for Jesse Pinkman: you keep pulling for him to get it together, but you know he’s eventually going to end up cooking meth and blowing it. Swisher’s footwork is terrible and he is prone to making head-scratching mistakes like this one from last August:

If Swisher has been the hardest to watch, Carlos Santana has been the worst defensive player for the Indians. It’s not entirely his fault — during the off-season manager Terry Francona cooked up a plan for Santana to be the Tribe’s starting third baseman, despite Santana not having played the hot corner since 2008, when he was in the Dodgers’ farm system. The logic of the plan, should Santana be a decent third baseman, was sound: Lonnie Chisenhall had done nothing but disappoint during his several chances in the Bigs, Yan Gomes had emerged as a legitimate every day catcher, and Santana is a hitter that you’d like to have in the lineup every day. But it’s become apparent that Carlos Santana can’t play third base at the Major League level: he’s committed 6 errors in 66 chances.

Here I would like to point out that errors are inherently a misleading statistic, which is why they have been usurped by more useful statistics like DSR, and UZR (but more on that in a minute). Sometimes, they unfairly cast a good defensive player in a bad light, faulting a player with great range that gets to more balls than your average fielder — the more balls you get to, the more chances you have to commit errors. But more often errors are a flawed statistic because of what they don’t say: they hide the fact that plays a good fielder would make a bad fielder never gets close to, therefore eliminating some “chances” and thus, some “errors”. Remember, official scorers almost always have to see a player get their glove on the ball to score the play an error.

Santana may have only committed six errors so far this season, but there have been several other plays that many third baseman would make that he could not convert. Santana’s UZR per 150 games — (for a definition of this term, click here, but it essentially factors in several sabermetric statistics to see how valuable a player projects to be at a given position for an entire season) — is dead-last among third baseman that have played more than 40 innings this season. Dead-last is bad.

What’s more, is a lot of people have pointed to Santana’s struggles at adapting to a new position as a factor in his woes at the plate — a perennial cornerstone in the middle of the Indians lineup, Santana has slashed just .159/.307/.301 this year. While I don’t necessarily agree with the connection — and I will point out that he has maintained a league average OBP despite a league-worst BABIP of .177 — it is something worth noting: Santana’s year has been dismal on both sides of the ball. What if the adjustment to playing third has stripped him of confidence at the plate? Again, my gut instinct is that we, as fans, look too hard into things like this, but I would be remiss to not mention another potential issue in continuing to pencil Santana in at the 5-hole.

The good news for Indians’ fans is that Santana’s defensive woes kept the door open for the suddenly opportunistic  Lonnie Chisenhall. Lonnie has been enjoying a breakout campaign at the plate this year, slashing a comical .381/.437/.558 in 128 plate appearances (your buzz-killing stat of the day: his BABIP is an incredibly unsustainable .456). For a guy that tore up minor league pitching, Chisenhall was a major let down in his first several trips to the big leagues.

The only reason Santana was viewed as a potential long-term solution at third was because the Indians front office seemed to have soured on Chisenhall. So it’s been a lot of fun to watch Lonnie — who is essentially playing for his job — tear up Major League pitching in 2014. It even sparked a nickname that I made up, that only one other person has heard: Lonnie Business. Lonnie Business because Lonnie and his wife had their second baby this spring and Lonnie realized it was time to start making some money to raise that family with. (What are Lonnie’s kids named, you ask? Cutter and Cannon Chisenhall, because you can’t make this stuff up.)

The bad news is that Lonnie is trying his damndest to be a worse third baseman than Carlos Santana. He has now made an error in three straight games at the hot corner, bringing his season total to eight, as mentioned above. His error in yesterday’s game proved costly, as errors so often do.

lonnie error log

The Indians were one strike away from getting out of a scoreless inning before Lonnie Business mishandled a chopper. Gillaspie then singled and Viciedo drilled a three-run homer off of tough-luck loser Josh Tomlin.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what Terry Francona does to try and get his struggling third basemen at-bats, something they both deserve for separate reasons. Santana is a proven hitter that is simply off to a bad start. Chisenhall is a former elite prospect that seems to finally have found his swing at the only level that matters. Both players have seen some time at first base, but even if one of them plays first and the other DHs, that pushes Nick Swisher into right field and David Murphy out of the lineup, and Murphy has been a legitimate RBI-guy that has also earned the right to play every day.

If the third base shenanigans continue, it’s possible that Mike Aviles could slide over from second base — Jason Kipnis is due back today or tomorrow — and take either Santana or Chisenhall out of the lineup most days. It seems more likely that one of them will have to find a way to get their shit together and start making plays, and it seems like Chisenhall is the guy. He has more experience there, he’s finally starting to hit, and it will make Francona’s job infinitely easier if he shows some aptitude at the hot corner.

Dear, Lonnie Business:

It’s business time.

Cover image courtesy of Keith Allison.