Indians

Frankie goes to South Beach, will the real Lindor return?

There’s a dirty little secret about the 2017 Cleveland Indians that no fan likes to talk about. It is obvious, yet everyone ignores it because no one wants it to be true. Despite appearing to be the same player in physical and emotional status, there is one guy who just is NOT the same as he has been in the past. He still bats in the same spot in the order- because Tito-1 but he doesn’t bat the same; if you catch my drift. There isn’t a known injury limiting his effectiveness in 2017 either. He is an All-Star player though whether or not he deserved to be included should have been up for debate even though it wasn’t. He is Francisco Lindor.

Of the 17 AL shortstops with at least 200 plate appearances, Lindor is ranked eighth in batting average (.256), on base percentage (.312), and wRC+ (98). He is ranked sixth in fWAR (2.0) thanks to his defense- sort of. Lindor is still a good defender, but he has not been playing like the elite defensive shortstop that Indians fans have come to expect from him.

The pizzazz and efficiency of past seasons seem to be lacking. The numbers back up the eyes. His UZR/150 is a mere 1.8 when it was 18.9 and 20.7 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The DRS is actually negative (-2) when it was 17 in 2016 (one defensive run saved per 80 innings) and 10 in 2015 (one defensive run saved per 86 innings). The Inside Edge Fielding guide on Fangraphs shows he is making the routine plays just as effectively (98%), but he is down on the likely plays (70.6% instead of 89% in 2016), even (25% to 69%), and remote (5.6% to 26.9%).

Then, there is the hitting. To say the flyball revolution has not been kind to him would be an understatement. After displaying an impressive amount of power at the World Baseball Classic and in the month of April, Lindor’s bat has been in the most prolonged slump of his career.

statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

His flyball rate had been steady at 28% in both 2015 and 2016, but he is sitting at 42% so far this season. The emphasis on putting the ball in the air has helped many batters including giving Lonnie Chisenhall All-Star worthy numbers and given prospect Eric Haase new life in the organization. Lindor is still figuring it out. His strikeout rate, swing percentages (in and out of the zone), and contact rates have all about matched his 2016 numbers. So, he is not having as much difficulty finding the ball with the upward plane swing as one might expect for a batter with these struggles.

Another question could be if pitchers have a better scouting report on Lindor. BrooksBaseball has shown his 2017 average and power have struggled against the fourseam fastball, while he has been able to obtain high power and/or average against the two-seamers, changeups, and sliders. The odd thing is the usage rates remain almost identical in April versus May through the All-Star break. Lindor has been seeing the four-seam fastball around 36% of the time with a nearly even split among all other pitch types.

The location of pitch types does reveal some changes. Pitchers in April were keeping their high velocity offerings low in the zone to Lindor. Since the calendar flipped to May, the hard stuff has drifted upwards. Most breaking pitches, on the other hand, went from staying in the lower half of the zone to an extreme shift to below the zone. Offspeed pitches have mostly remained below the zone the entire season to Lindor.

There’s a good reason that breaking and offspeed pitches are going low to Lindor now. He is still crushing balls middle-up, but his results have fallen off on the lower zone pitches as can be seen in the slugging percentage zone chart above. It is possible that the April results were an adjustment period for pitchers to figure out the new Lindor batting profile. If so, then it is his turn to make an adjustment back.

Frankie Lindor made the 2017 All-Star game based on past performances (including the 2017 World Baseball Classic), that smile, and the knowledge that he is still one of the best overall talents in MLB. He had a rough first half, but it is expected that he will rebound and lead the Indians to the AL Central division title. With the team already being a serious contender as-is, the Tribe could be near unstoppable if he returns to playing his best.

  1. Still praying for you, big guy. Hope the heart ablation surgery went well and you are back with the team in the second half. []

  • Pat Leonard

    I miss Frankie Lindor: Superstar Shortstop.

  • jshmeezy6

    I don’t think any of this is talent related. He just doesn’t seem focused to me. Not distracted, but not focused. I know Jim likes “Pissed Lindor,” but we’ve seen way too much of it this season because he’s making a lot of mental mistakes, and that kind of stimulus isn’t good for an athlete’s psyche too much. From a purely batting standpoint, I think the early power got to his head, too. None of these are necessarily knocks. He’s just a kid in his second full 182-game season. He (or Tito/Sandy) will correct himself soon enough.

  • Pat Leonard

    Jason Kipnis mentioned in this article (not specific to Lindor, but about the whole team) that they just weren’t as driven as they were last year and Francona lit into them for it. They weren’t fighting as hard, and I think that applies to Lindor.

    https://www.clevescene.com/cleveland/as-the-tribe-enters-the-all-star-break-a-conversation-with-jason-kipnis-on-the-teams-struggles-his-struggles-and-how-they-can-get-back-to/Content?oid=8587241

  • mgbode

    The weirdest part to me is the defense. He takes such pride in being a great defender. Note that late June and July, some of that defensive sparkle appeared to be returning. Something to watch.

  • jshmeezy6

    If Kipnis is hurt, then I can’t place much blame on him unless he wasn’t being a leader. I thought Lindor could lead the team, but I guess Napoli’s absence is a bigger factor than everybody anticipated, especially since Brantley doesn’t seem that vocal. What’s really weird to me is Frankie hasn’t got any interest in competing with Ramirez to be a better batter (player?). Maybe if Lindor was leading off and Jose was hitting in the 2 hole?

  • mgbode
  • Chris

    Maybe we should re-offer him that $100 million contract while he’s in the dumps.

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  • jpftribe

    Been to a lot of games in the past year. I noticed a couple of games ago his body language in the field was just not good. Unfocused, disinterested. Then he makes two spectacular plays, so I threw that out the window.

    Long 1st full season, International stardom, poster child for MLB kids and charities, WBC, short spring, contract talks, oh and some swing changes. He’s slumping. So’s Machado, wonder when Balt starts selling?

  • jpftribe

    Trust me, that’s exactly what you have. And an MVP 3rd baseman that came up faster than him in the minors.

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  • Harv

    Great analysis, Bode. Last year’s lack of typical sophomore fall-off was so unusual for a player the opponent notices, and I mistook it for him being one of the few with talent that overwhelms pitching adjustments, like a Griffey or Trout. Your stats seem to imply that it just took opposition video analysts a little longer to find a hole and then lead him into temptation. Looks to me like he’s lacking patience and expanding his zone.

    He’s really young. With his family and business team chirping in his ear, and with media and fans wondering, it would be normal for him to have creeping contract thoughts, and envy Correa’s comparative power numbers. Add to that having already received such acclaim for his defense and I think this is temporary. He has a great mental make-up and blue chip talent. That should soon swamp the pitching adjustments and any World Series hangover.

  • mgbode

    The swing % note that he is not expanding his zone. it hasn’t changed. The FB uptick is familiar across the entire Indians organization. I think it was intentional.

    Travis (from The Athletic) hit on Lindor from a different angle. Combining some of his analysis and some of it here though brings up a point that Lindor is hitting more FB but he doesn’t pull FB as much as the normal hitter does. I am now wondering if that is putting his batted balls in precarious spots.

  • Harv

    Won’t argue with the stats, but I was going both with what I think I see (not so reliable) but also what Tito has said: he hit some homers early and it seemed to have gotten good to him. And the kid kind of agreeing: “They had me look at film and that’s not who I am.” (paraphrasing). This all might be consistent.

  • mgbode

    Yeah, it’s not that he swinging at more out of the zone on average but they are giving him more out of the zone (which then tricks the eye).

    On the FB, he might be trying to correct as an adjustment since it hasn’t been working. He’s still swinging for that FB contact from what I’ve seen, but we’ll track it.

  • Harv

    but again, this kid will be fine – the level of talent is and work ethic is too high for any extended problems. I fully expect an organic Zimmer fall off as the video bank increases. It’s a tribute to this coaching staff how young players seem so comfortable in their first stints. Last year Naquin had a fine run before they figured him out. Obviously, talent counts but we saw Grinder and others sometimes screw up the talented rookies.

  • mgbode

    Yes, agreed. Lindor should be fine long-term. I am expecting a rise in the 2nd half (and good point on Zimmer, could go into slump during adjustment swings here).

    Not quite fair to lump Naquin in there as I don’t think he has the same level of talent (despite 1st round pick), but yeah, similar in that he was good until opposition figured out what he was doing.

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