Do Not Panic About Francisco Lindor

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Francisco Lindor has not lived up to expectations so far in 2017. While his power numbers have gone up, he has not been getting on base as often as he did in 2016 which has led to fans of the Cleveland Indians wondering if the young shortstop has changed his approach to become more of a power hitter. 

Do Not Panic About Francisco Lindor

Lindor is the face of the Cleveland Indians. He is going to be the face of the Cleveland Indians for a very long time unless something drastic occurs, but that is unlikely. Lindor has become the face of the franchise by setting an expectation of himself over his first two seasons in the MLB that he is an exceptional defensive player who is also a very good hitter.

This season, however, Lindor has seen a dip in his overall performance, causing fans to worry that Lindor has changed his approach at the plate, despite saying that he hasn’t noticed a change. I decided that I wanted to look into Lindor’s season a little deeper than just his batting average to see what was going on with Lindor’s 2017 season. In short, there is no reason to be concerned with Lindor or his approach at the plate.

The Results

To begin, let’s just take a quick look at Lindor’s triple slash line and counting stats for this year compared to 2016. These are the numbers that most fans look at when assessing a player’s overall performance at the plate.

2016 2017
AVG .301 .257
OBP .358 .316
SLG .435 .456
HR 15 14

Without having to dive too deep, you can already see a difference in Lindor’s year this year in contrast with his previous year. His batting average and on-base percentage are below his career norm, but his slugging percentage and home run numbers have risen. Contributing to his higher slugging percentage, along with his increased home run totals, is a large rise in doubles where Lindor currently has 28 in half a season to the 30 he hit in a full season last year.

This spike in slugging percentage is generally why many fans have begun to say that Lindor has changed his approach at the plate and that he trying to hit for power more than he did in previous years.

The Approach

When you look further into Lindor’s numbers, you see that there may not be as big of a shift in approach as many fans seem to believe.

2016 2017
K% 12.9% 12.9%
BB% 8.3% 7.5%
O-Swing% 30.3% 29.9%
O-Contact% 71.4% 77.3%
Swing% 47.3% 46.8%
Contact% 83.6% 87.1%

Although Lindor’s walk rate has dipped slightly this year, he is making more contact and putting balls in play, as evidenced by the rise in his contact rate by just under 4%. A complaint that I have seen from many fans this year is that Lindor is not as disciplined this year as he was last year, but as you can see from the table above, that is not true either.

O-Swing% is the rate at which a batter swings at pitches that are outside of the strike zone, while O-Contact% is the rate at which a batter is making contact with pitches outside of the strike zone. Lindor, this season, is right around the same rate in O-Swing% as he was in 2016, which is almost exactly league average (30% per FanGraphs). Lindor’s contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone has seen a significant rise, but it hasn’t been because of a rise in swinging at pitches outside of the zone so that isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on the contact he is making, which we will get to in a moment.

So, Lindor is swinging at around the same rate as last year, but making more contact while walking slightly less. To me, this doesn’t signify a dramatic change in approach to become more aggressive. A more aggressive approach from Lindor would see a higher rate of swinging not only at pitches outside, but swinging in general. Lindor has also seen his swinging strike rate go down by nearly 2%, another sign that he isn’t being as aggressive as it appears to fans

The Contact

Let’s now look at the type of contact Lindor is making as well as the results of the contact.

2016 2017
Soft% 17.2% 13.0%
Medium% 55.2% 51.4%
Hard% 27.5% 35.6%
Pull% 39.1% 39.0%
Center% 35.6% 35.9%
Opposite% 25.3% 25.1%
BABIP .324 .266

Another sign that a hitter would be trying to hit for more power would be if he began to pull the ball more, but in Lindor’s case, he is pulling the ball at essentially the same rate as last year. In fact, all of Lindor’s spray numbers have remained nearly identical to last year when many said that he was using the whole field and not trying to constantly pull the ball to hit home runs.

What has risen is Lindor’s hard contact rate. A rise in hard contact, combined with Lindor not pulling the ball any more than he did last year as well as him making more contact overall should mean that he would be getting more hits, but his batting average has dropped significantly. This usually means that Lindor has been getting pretty unlucky, as evidenced by a significant drop in his BABIP (Batting average on balls in play). Lindor’s rise in hard contact should mean he will see better results but that has yet to happen.

For comparison, Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts has a hard contact rate of 31% and a pull rate of 44.3%, but his batting average is .296 and he has a .353 BABIP. So, Lindor is making harder contact and pulling the ball less than Bogaerts, but is not getting the same results. Additionally, Lindor’s IFFB% (Infield fly ball percentage) which is the number of pop-ups that a batter hits, generally considered to be the worst outcome for a batter, is a measly 4.5% whereas Bogaerts’ is at 17.3%. This again leads me to believe that Lindor is getting extremely unlucky and his fortunes should change in the long run.

Going Forward

So in just looking at these numbers, it is easy to be optimistic about the second half of the 2017 season for Lindor. He is doing generally the same things as he did in 2016, while even improving in some areas (hard contact rate) but is simply not seeing the desired results. I did want to dispel the narrative around Lindor. That he is less disciplined and going for a more aggressive approach at the plate in search of more home runs. The reality is, again, that he is doing most of the same things as last year but seemingly getting unlucky.

While these numbers are not the be-all-end-all for a batter, they are pretty good indicators for a batter who is doing the right things at the plate and just not getting the results. Of course, there is more you can look at, such as exit velocity, launch angle, and what kind of hits Lindor is producing (ground ball, line drive, etc.) but I wanted to start with a general overview of looking at Lindor’s process to see why he wasn’t seeing the results that he did in 2016 or even compared to some of his peers around the league.

I will look into Lindor’s season further as we move deeper into the season, looking at the things mentioned above, comparing his numbers to those of other shortstops, and also looking into his defense to see what has changed from 2016 to 2017. For right now, though, this should serve as a reminder to fans that there is no reason to worry about what Lindor is doing at the plate.

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