What Can We Make of Francisco Lindor?

About a month ago, I asked whether Carlos Correa might’ve already become baseball’s best shortstop. Correa got off to a wonderful beginning, with positive signs all over, while there were indications that Troy Tulowitzki was down a step or two. Nothing now has changed about my evaluation of Correa, as I still think he’s fantastic, but if you just look at the numbers, Correa might not even be baseball’s best shortstop rookie. In basically identical playing time, Correa finds himself a hair behind Francisco Lindor in WAR. In the second half alone, Lindor’s posted a WAR of 3.0, tied with Bryce Harper and fourth overall among position players. The defense, as expected, has been there. Lindor is a gifted defensive shortstop. But he’s also been hitting, after a cold first few weeks. This was less expected.

It’s a reason why the Indians are hanging around the fringes of the wild-card race. Not that they’re likely to get there, but they are mathematically alive, with an improved roster that deserves better than its standing. Lindor is at the middle of the Indians’ little surge, and given his emergence, it’s time we take a look at his abilities. In a short amount of time, the 21-year-old has flashed his whole skillset.

The following highlight should be kept in mind throughout:

Lindor’s a shortstop. He plays a really good shortstop. That’s been his reputation, and the early evidence agrees. In what’s been a partial season, Lindor ranks fifth among shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved. He ranks seventh by UZR, and fourth if you convert UZR to a rate statistic with a common denominator. Lindor is already valuable on account of what he does in the field. That gives him a strong foundation, and it requires that he provide less at the plate. Defense is likely to be the strength of Lindor’s career.

I preface with that because I’m not buying the offense. Not this offense, anyway. I like Lindor as a player, and I like shortstops who can play the position, but Lindor seems to be producing over his head. Just Wednesday, he hit his eighth home run. He’s slugging .458 over the equivalent of a half-season. What we already knew was that Lindor’s pretty good about making contact, but the quality of contact was a more open question. When Kiley evaluated Lindor, he gave him a 30 for present game power, with a 40 future estimate. Acknowledging that Lindor doesn’t yet have a huge big-league track record, and that he’s still very young, he’s generated some meaningful indicators.

We can start with this: Lindor has hit a little more than half his balls in play on the ground. That’s pretty consistent with what he did in the minors. On those grounders, he’s so far batted .341, with a .309 wOBA. Maybe that seems high to you, or maybe it doesn’t, but it is high — over the past three years, 267 players have hit at least 250 groundballs, and Yasiel Puig leads all of them with a grounder wOBA of .311. Mike Trout is second, at .308; Dee Gordon is third, at .289. The group average is .220. Lindor shouldn’t end up around the average. He runs too well, and he spreads his grounders around. He can have success on grounders, but just not to this degree. It’s nitpicking, but it is what it is.

And speaking of spreading grounders around, it really is something Lindor does, more than the average. His grounder spray charts, from both sides of the plate:

lindor-grounders-split

Of Lindor’s 129 grounders, he’s pulled just under 40% of them. The league-average pulled-grounder rate this year is 53%. Like every statistic, this one comes with a certain amount of noise, but it’s also just a result of a guy’s swing. Certain swings are more likely to pull grounders than others, and we can tell more about those swings, too. This plot is similar to one I’ve posted before — it’s ISO, from 2013 – 2015, against pulled-grounder rate, for players with at least 250 grounders.

power-pulled-grounder-rate

There’s a real relationship there — generally speaking, more powerful hitters pull more grounders, and less powerful hitters spray more grounders. Lindor has shown a tendency to spray more grounders, and one thing that suggests is that his power will be limited. It’s moderately good news for his BABIP, but worse news for the pop. Just looking over the information from the ESPN Home Run Tracker, Lindor has eight dingers, but none of them have gone 400 feet. The average distance is about 370. Based on the estimates, one of them would’ve left every big-league park. Three of them would’ve left at least 20. One got out of the only park where it would’ve gone for four bases.

Let’s pretend like Lindor’s “true talent” pulled-grounder rate is his current 39.5%. What might the information say about that? Over the past three years, there are 23 players with a pulled-grounder rate within five percentage points. They’ve averaged a .096 ISO, with a maximum of .142 (Eric Hosmer). They’ve averaged a .321 BABIP, with a maximum of .361 (Christian Yelich). They’ve averaged a 92 wRC+, with a maximum of 116 (Hosmer again). This is all just for the sake of example, and nothing is by any means conclusive, but it would be unusual for a player with this grounder profile to be a true offensive plus, especially power-wise. Hosmer has made it work, but Francisco Lindor isn’t Eric Hosmer. Yelich has sort of made it work, but he has one pop-up in his whole big-league career, whereas Lindor already has seven. Yelich has been better about getting the barrel to the ball.

There’s a decently-big part of me that thinks this is all stupid. Lindor is practically a baby. Nothing about his career is locked in. Players make adjustments all the time, and maybe as Lindor matures, he’ll pull the ball with more authority. If he does that, that’ll change the picture, and maybe Lindor will have more offensive promise. But at least given how he looks today, he’s more of a BABIP hitter than a power hitter, a contact bat unlikely to walk or strike out very much. Put another way, Lindor looks like his scouting reports. Just like, you know, you’d think. Lindor doesn’t profile to have a special bat. He does still profile to be a special player. For that, he has his true strength to thank.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Stephen Stucker
7 years ago

Why, I can make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl