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