When the New York Mets traded and later extended Francisco Lindor to the tune of 10-year $341 million, the highest ever for a shortstop, they could not have envisioned that their prized offseason acquisition would be struggling two months into the season. Entering today’s game, Lindor is slashing 0.191/0.293/0.290 with 11 RBIs and 4 home runs, and the underlying metrics are not much better. So far this season, Lindor has a wRC+ of 72, a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of 0.265 (bottom 10% of the MLB), and an expected weighted on-base average on contact (xwOBAcon) of 0.305 (bottom 28% of the MLB), all career lows. These early struggles for the superstar shortstop have been uncharacteristic for him so far. Since his debut in 2015, Lindor has lead all shortstops in fWAR and bWAR, with 2 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers, 4 All-Star game appearances, and a Platinum Glove in 2016. What has been the reason behind Lindor’s struggles this year?
On the surface, Lindor currently has a walk rate of 11.6%, well above his walk rate of 8.1% when Lindor was in Cleveland, along with a strikeout rate of 15.3% which is slightly higher than his 14.1% strikeout rate in Cleveland. Both his strikeout rate and walk rate are both good for the 85th percentile and 74th percentile of the MLB, along with a whiff rate that is in the 81st percentile. However, a deeper look at Lindor’s plate discipline suggests that he has been a little too hesitant and is swinging at less pitches.
Looking further into his plate discipline, Lindor has been swinging at less pitches than he has his entire career. During his tenure with Cleveland, Lindor swung at pitches outside the strike zone 32.4% of the time, swung at pitches inside the zone 70.3% of the time, and in total swung at pitches 48.3% of the time. To start the season, Lindor is swinging at pitches outside the strike zone 28.9% of the time, pitches inside the zone 66.6% of the time, and in total is swinging at pitches 44.4% of the time, all of which are career lows and help add to the theory that Lindor is swinging at less pitches.
It is easy to suggest that a player swinging at less pitches would be making more contact as they are more selective and patient with the pitches they choose to swing at. Lindor made contact with pitches outside the zone 73.3% of the time and pitches inside the zone 91.1% of the time before being traded to New York. Overall, Lindor made contact 84.2% when he was in Cleveland. Comparatively, Lindor has been making contact at pitches outside the zone 70.1% of the time (his lowest since his rookie year), and pitches inside the zone 87.7% of the time (a career low), ultimately making contact with pitches he has seen 80.9% of the time to start his tenure with New York (only behind his contact percentage in 2020). What we see here is simply that Lindor is both swinging at less pitches and making contact with less pitches, which are contributing factors to his struggles despite his career-high walk rate.
Balls In Play
Another facet of Lindor’s struggles are coming from when he is putting the ball in play. The first thing to consider is the decrease in line drives that Lindor is hitting, and the increase in ground balls. Consider the graphic below:
As we can see, Lindor currently has the lowest line drive rate of his career, while his ground ball rate is the highest it has been since his rookie season. The decrease in line drives and increase in grounders can be directly attributed to a decrease in average exit velocity and decrease in launch angle, as shown in the charts below:
There has been a drastic drop in average exit velocity for Lindor this year, with a drop in average launch angle as well. In five of Lindor’s six seasons he has been at least in the 69th percentile, but this year his average exit velocity ranks in the middle of the pack, ranking at the 51st percentile. There has also been a decrease in hard-hit rate with his hard hit percentage also in the middle of the pack in the 51st percentile (only higher than in 2016). Another result of the drop in average exit velocity and launch angle is that Lindor is barreling the ball less than before. Lindor’s six barrels (according to Statcast) ranks in the 18th percentile, which would also be the lowest of his career so far.
Regression on the Way?
Since entering the league in 2015, Francisco Lindor has been one of the best shortstops in the game, compiling the highest fWAR among shortstops since his debut, and fifth among position players, trailing only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Nolan Arenado. Lindor has been a superstar for years, and a slow start to his New York tenure should not discount that fact. The expected stats have not been up to Lindor’s standards, as his expected batting average and expected slugging percentage are both below the 25th percentile at 0.225 and 0.345 respectively, but his status as a superstar at an important position makes me think that Lindor will regress to his standards. There is a reason why the Mets chose to make Lindor the highest paid shortstop in major league history and the third highest ever, behind only Trout and Betts, and it is way Mets fans should not be concerned about Lindor’s slow start, as his career norms indicate that Lindor will start making more contact, hitting the ball harder, and barrel the ball at a higher frequency.
Plate Discipline and fWAR stats courtesy of FanGraphs
Batted Ball stats courtesy of Baseball Savant