Francisco Lindor is the face of the Cleveland franchise. In just a little more than a season and a half, he has accumulated 10.3 bWAR. If he flew under the radar at all during the 2016 season, thanks to playing in Cleveland, that ended with his substantial contributions towards the team coming within an inch of winning the World Series. During that amazing playoff run, he hit .310/.355/.466, and he combined his offensive prowess with excellent defense at shortstop and an electric smile. Any baseball fan not familiar with Lindor beforehand knew his name after October.
Lindor’s bat has more or less performed to the expectations that scouts had for him before his major-league debut. His career line currently stands at .306/.356/.454, which is good for a 118 wRC+. That level of offense does not make a superstar at every position, but it does when combined with outstanding shortstop defense. At 23 years old, it is safe to say that Lindor’s level of defense will continue into the near future. His offense is a little less sure.
Despite his success at the plate, Lindor’s 26.7 percent hard-hit rate ranks among the lowest in the league since 2015, 114th out of 131 qualified players. If we look at the bottom 30 players on that list, Lindor is the best of the lot offensively.
Unsurprisingly, you can see a moderate correlation between BABIP and wOBA. If a player does not hit the ball hard often, he would really need a high percentage of his balls in play to fall for hits in order to be a productive offensive player. Only nine of these players are above average offensively. It is also important to note that I would consider Jean Segura an outlier in this group considering how good he was in 2016.
It’s hard to believe that Lindor can maintain his career .333 BABIP. He does not hit the ball very hard, and he isn’t especially fast. Jason Parks, then of Baseball Prospectus, described him as having “average speed.” Chris Mellen, also of BP, said Lindor’s “speed isn’t of the impact variety.” In other words, though he has approximately a 50 percent groundball rate, he is not going to beat a lot of them out.
Lindor does have enough balls in play to say that his .333 BABIP isn’t purely a product of a small sample size. BABIP’s “stabilization point” – the point at which it self-correlates at 50%, and a good threshold for reliability – is 820 balls in play. Right now, I calculated that Lindor has put 832 balls in play (AB-HR-K+SF). However, BABIP is an especially chaotic stat, and the stabilization point is only a rule of thumb. I have already shown some anomalies associated with Lindor’s offense; it could be that we need more time to determine Lindor’s “real” BABIP.
The fact of the matter is that it is just really hard to maintain a .333 BABIP. Among players with at least 5,000 plate appearances in their careers, less than 60 have ever had a BABIP that high or higher.
The good news about Lindor is that he improved his walk rates and contact rates in 2016. In fact, the latter was among the best in baseball. His 12.9 percent strikeout rate ranked 22nd in 2016 among qualified players. He is also a true switch-hitter, having a nearly identical wOBA on each side of the plate.
ZiPS projects Lindor to hit .298/.351/.454 in 2017 with a .320 BABIP. His projected .347 wOBA is exactly what his career wOBA is. Clearly, ZiPS is projecting him to be the same player he has always been. Steamer projects a small regression at a .337 wOBA for 2017. I don’t believe that these projections systems factor in hard-hit rates or exit velocities, though. If they do not, then I would take the under on those projections, but just slightly. I would be shocked if Lindor turned in a wRC+ of below 100. The good news is that even if he did, his defense would still make him at least a 4 WAR player.
I have made it no secret in the past that I am a big fan of my fellow boricua, Francisco Lindor. I am rooting for the guy as much as anyone, but I would be remiss to not be a bit cautious about his offense going forward. Whatever happens, we will still have his glorious smile to distract us.
. . .
Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.