Francisco Lindor Is Having an MVP-Caliber Season

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

As the Mets have battled to maintain their spot atop the National League East, Francisco Lindor has led the way. After inaugurating his time in New York with a career-worst season with the bat last year, the 28-year-old shortstop has kicked off the start of his 10-year, $341 million contract with a campaign worthy of a spot in MVP discussions.

Lindor had the chance to play the hero on Tuesday night in the Bronx. For as well as Frankie Montas and Clarke Schmidt pitched in the Subway Series finale, the game could have easily swung the other direction at the end. Trailing 4-2 and down to their final out, the Mets loaded the bases against Schmidt, who had already completed three strong innings of relief. Up came Lindor, who over his previous eight games had collected 13 hits (a 263-hit pace!) but on this night had merely walked twice (on a total of 15 pitches) in four plate appearances.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone summoned lefty Wandy Peralta, turning the switch-hitter around to what’s become his weaker side lately (101 wRC+ this year and 102 since 2019, compared to respective marks of 140 and 121). Even as he fell behind 0-2, Lindor reminded the Yankees and the 49,217 fans in attendance of the hot bat he’s been swinging, scorching a low slider down the left field line — a surefire extra-base hit, except that it went foul by a couple of feet. He chopped the next pitch into the no-man’s land between third and home, with Peralta and catcher Jose Trevino both chasing it and leaving home plate uncovered, but that too wound up in foul territory. Finally, Lindor chased a low changeup and hit a fairly routine fly ball to center field, ending the game:

This one didn’t go the Mets’ way, but as Boone told reporters afterwards, it took “a great job of execution from strike one to the last pitch,” to keep Lindor from extending the game. And more often than most, Lindor has come through in such big spots. His 3.77 WPA ranks sixth among the majors’ 143 batting title-qualified hitters, his 1.13 clutch score 17th. He’s hitting .359/.405/.615 (179 wRC+) in high-leverage situations — a small sample at 42 PA, but an impressive showing nonetheless. Without such timely work, who knows where the Mets — whose division lead over the Braves is down to 1.5 games — would be?

And who knows where Lindor would be if these were still the Wilpon-era Mets. In a move that heralded the transition to the Steve Cohen era, the team sent a four-player package to Cleveland in exchange for Lindor and Carlos Carrasco on January 7, 2021. In the two months since Cohen had gained control of the franchise, the Mets had signed free agent James McCann and traded for Todd Frazier, but this was a much more upscale move, with higher risk and higher reward. Three months later, the team signed Lindor to that massive extension, the third-largest contract for any player after those of Mike Trout ($426.5 million over 12 years) and Mookie Betts ($365 million over 12 years). The deal’s price tag was more than double that of David Wright, who previously held the franchise record via his $138-million, eight-year deal. Suddenly, it was a brave new world in Queens.

Lindor’s first year in New York — played under a one-year, $22.3 million contract that had been agreed to just a week after the trade — was solid but fell short of the lofty expectations created by the trade. Limited to 125 games due to an oblique strain, he bopped 20 home runs, but hit just .230/.322/.412, numbers that represented across-the-board career lows, as did his 103 wRC+. To be fair, that final line constituted quite a rebound after he hit just .194/.294/.294 (69 wRC+) through the end of May; he batted a more representative .252/.340/.482 (123 wRC+) the rest of the way, though his injury, which cost him over five weeks in July and August, diluted the impact of his late-season success.

Thanks to his defense (15 RAA, 4 DRS, -0.1 UZR), Lindor was still worth 4.2 WAR by our measure and 3.1 WAR by that of Baseball Reference, but against the backdrop of the Mets’ 77-85 season, it was hardly a stellar start to his time in the Big Apple. In what may have been the most memorable aspect of his 2021 season, Lindor made up a bizarre story about arguing with teammate Jeff McNeil over whether they’d sighted a raccoon or a rat in the Citi Field dugout tunnel — a means of papering over a physical altercation that reportedly stemmed from tension over McNeil’s refusal to follow instructions to shift defensively. Lindor hit his first Citi Field homer after the fracas, but the whole affair was still one for the LOLMets dysfunction files.

This year has been a much different story. Lindor started on a high note, batting .282/.367/.482 (144 wRC+) through the end of April, and while he cooled off in May (112 wRC+) and June (77), he’s hit .318/.389/.510 (157 wRC+) since the start of July. That’s the highest mark on a team that’s gone 32-17 (.653) in that span while needing just about every one of those wins to stay ahead of the charging Braves (34-15), though perhaps if Lindor hadn’t struggled so badly in June (not that he didn’t have company), the Mets wouldn’t have gone 13-12, frittering away their 10.5-game lead over an Atlanta team that went 21-6 in that same month.

The monthly splits are secondary to the bigger picture, of course. And in this one, Lindor is hitting .272/.346/.454 with 21 homers, 13 steals, and a 129 wRC+ overall for what amounts to his best offensive season since 2018, when he set career highs with 38 homers, 25 steals, a .519 SLG, and a 132 wRC+. Unadorned, a 129 wRC+ is nice; for a good defender at shortstop (7 RAA, 1 DRS, 1.0 UZR), it’s exceptional, and so Lindor’s 5.5 WAR is fifth in the NL:

NL Position Player WAR Leaders
Rk Player Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
1 Nolan Arenado STL 491 26 .300 .365 .557 157 -1.5 31.6 13.7 6.5
2 Paul Goldschmidt STL 511 31 .335 .417 .622 191 2.4 56.8 -12.5 6.5
3 Freddie Freeman LAD 548 16 .326 .400 .520 156 5.5 41.8 -6.3 5.7
4 Manny Machado SDP 494 22 .297 .368 .522 148 3.0 30.9 5.5 5.6
5 Francisco Lindor NYM 546 21 .272 .346 .454 129 3.7 22.3 11.1 5.5
6 Mookie Betts LAD 485 27 .273 .344 .529 144 3.2 28.3 7.2 5.4
7 Dansby Swanson ATL 537 16 .291 .346 .450 120 3.6 16.5 15.2 5.2
8 Trea Turner LAD 544 18 .311 .354 .493 137 3.6 27.4 2.5 5.1
9 J.T. Realmuto PHI 431 14 .273 .341 .462 123 4.4 16.0 14.1 4.7
10T Jeff McNeil NYM 432 7 .321 .373 .465 141 3.2 24.2 4.4 4.5
Austin Riley ATL 541 31 .284 .351 .553 147 -1.3 28.5 -3.7 4.5
Statistics through August 24

That’s good company. He’s also tops among shortstops in either league, with Swanson and Turner the only others above 5.0 WAR. Additionally, Lindor is sixth in the NL in bWAR (4.9), though he’s nearly two wins behind the league-leading Goldschmidt (6.7). If the NL MVP vote were taken today, Lindor wouldn’t be a guy atop many (maybe even any) ballots, but with six weeks to go in the season and the NL East race up in the air, he’s within striking distance.

What’s interesting about Lindor’s production and in particular his recent hot streak is that it’s at least somewhat counter to his batted ball stats. On the one hand, his overall .302 BABIP is 54 points higher than last year and 26 points higher than his 2017-21 mark. But check out his rolling xwOBA trend:

Lindor’s 50-event rolling xwOBA hit a season-high .466 on August 8 at the 481-PA mark and has been trending downhill since. Yet while on that downslope he’s hit .300/.354/.433 in 65 PA, albeit with just three extra-base hits, and over the steepest part of that downhill, he’s at .325/.357/.450 (132 wRC+) in 42 PA from August 16 onward. A closer look shows that he hasn’t barreled a ball since August 12 and has just three since August 3 (4.2%) after having three in four days before that.

Indeed, Lindor’s overall Statcast numbers are not only rather middling but very similar to last year’s, when he was just a bit better than league-average overall:

Francisco Lindor Batted Ball Profile
Season GB/FB GB% EV Barrel% HH% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2018 0.98 38.8% 90.6 9.1% 40.5% .277 .289 .519 .512 .368 .375
2019 1.20 43.7% 91.0 7.1% 40.8% .284 .273 .518 .464 .349 .333
2020 1.07 38.5% 89.9 5.6% 41.1% .258 .279 .415 .441 .324 .346
2021 0.94 39.4% 90.7 8.2% 44.1% .230 .254 .412 .453 .317 .345
2022 1.07 42.4% 89.1 8.1% 40.3% .272 .255 .454 .428 .347 .334
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Lindor’s average exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit rate are thoroughly middling, ranking either in the 51st or 52nd percentile. He’s hitting the ball on the ground more than last year and popping up more often (11.8% vs. 9.4% in terms of IFFB%), but his xBAs are virtually identical, and his xSLG is actually lower, as is his xwOBA (he’s striking out more often, 18.9% vs. 14.9%). Even so, those x-stats are in the 67th and 68th percentiles, respectively. The gap between his wOBA and his xwOBA has swung 41 points relative to last year, from 28 points below to 13 above.

It’s not exactly unusual for a player like Lindor to rank so highly on the offensive leaderboards despite unremarkable Statcast numbers. Here’s a scatter plot showing barrel rate versus wRC+, with a few noteworthy players highlighted:

Lindor is hardly an outlier even among teammates like McNeil (2.6% barrel rate, yet eighth in the NL with a 141 wRC+) and Mark Canha (3.7%), to say nothing of Steven Kwan (1.1%). Arenado (who’s second in wRC+), Andrés Giménez (one of the players in the blockbuster with the Guardians) and Lindor’s former infield neighbor José Ramírez are also highlighted. We — or maybe it’s just me? — sometimes get spoiled by the Aaron Judges and Mike Trouts of the world whose elite production lines up with their barrel rates and exit velocities, but there’s obviously more than one route to productivity.

Regardless of how he’s doing it, the Mets are going to need Lindor to keep it up if they’re to stave off the Braves. Our Playoff Odds give New York a 75.7% chance of winning the NL East, with their projected 1-WAR advantage in the starting pitcher projections (thank you, return of Jacob deGrom) and smaller edges at most positions factoring into that. If they do hold on, Lindor shouldn’t be forgotten come voting season. He’s been worth every penny the Mets are paying him and then some, and if he continues to play like this, their future together bodes well.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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1 year ago

Lindor has been tremendous this year! I’ve been a Mets fan all my life and this is the first time since ’99 where I have seen what good shortstop defense can accomplish. Of note, his offensive numbers most likely would be even better than they are now if he didn’t break his finger in San Francisco around June. After his finger healed in July, Lindor has been hitting like a man possessed. It has really been great fun to witness him play the game.

1 year ago

Wait, what? Jose Reyes had a year or two where he was really good defensively. He was not at all good at the end and Lindor’s defense is quite visually pleasing but it’s not like the Padres who haven’t had a top notch defender at shortstop since (checks notes) Garry Templeton in the 80s.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I will not stand for any Khalil Greene slander.

1 year ago
Reply to  Francoeurstein

At least per UZR he was below average every year except 2006, where he was +6 (although he missed time).

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I didn’t even look at the stats, I just really like Khalil Greene.

1 year ago
Reply to  Francoeurstein

One of the best college players I ever saw.