Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Francisco Lindor

     I'll never forget the first time I watched Francisco Lindor play. It was the summer of 2010, and he was on an under-18 all-American team. They were touring the country and had come to my hometown to play against the local town ball team. I went with a couple friends because we had heard that Bryce Harper would be there. It turned out that Scott Boras had convinced him to leave the team because he was getting close to being drafted. Just one more reason to hate Scott Boras. Anyway, that was disappointing but it was clear from the beginning there were quite a few future big leaguers on the team. Lindor popped out to me right a way for a couple reasons. The first was his obvious charisma. He had an easygoing nature about him, appearing relaxed and having fun. After every pitch, he and the second baseman had to run up the middle to back up the throw from the catcher, even with no one on base. Every time they went there they high-fived. He just seemed to be enjoying himself. He also stood out because of the way the P.A. announcer tried way too hard to get the accent right with his name: "Now batting, Fran-CEE-sco LEEN-dor."
      Five years later, Lindor enjoyed an excellent rookie campaign for the Indians, batting .313/.352/.482 en route to getting robbed by the voters in Rookie of the Year voting. (Carlos Correa hit .282/.346/.496 with far worse defense than Lindor.) While his calling card continues to be his terrific fielding at shortstop, saving 10 runs there in 2015 while playing just 98 games, he showed an advanced approach at the plate last year; he took almost 30% of all of his balls in play to the opposite field.
     Projections haven't been kind to Lindor going into next season. Most people who think he'll regress cite his .348 batting average on balls in play. And while he won't repeat that in 2016, there are reasons to believe it won't go down as much as some think. For starters, there's the aforementioned 30% of balls to the opposite field stat. In lots of situations the people riding BABIP are getting lucky. However, the fact that Lindor can take so many balls the other way seem to demonstrate that he knows how to hit it where they ain't, which will keep opponents from using any shifts on him.
     Also, typically it's a cause for alarm when somebody's BABIP makes a sudden jump in one season. Kurt Suzuki in 2014 is the perfect example of that. His entire career he had never had a BABIP higher than .269, and it was often lower than that. Then suddenly in 2014, it ballooned to .328 in the first half. There was no precedent, it just happened and ultimately suckered the Twins into giving him a two year extension. But last season wasn't like that for Lindor, all throughout his career in the minors, his batting average on balls in play has been consistently high, including hitting .328 in that area in 2015 before coming to Cleveland.
     In the midst of the national media's love affair with Carlos Correa this offseason, many have forgotten about Lindor, considering him a great fielding shortstop with no chance of repeating his 2015 BABIP-fueled hitting season. And that's fine. He can keep a low profile playing in Cleveland his whole career it won't matter after he has another terrific season.

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