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Should we worry about Francisco Lindor’s bat?

The Mets’ shortstop has been a well below average offensive contributor to start the 2021 season

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Mets acquired shortstop Francisco Lindor from Cleveland, they were hoping to get a franchise player who could lead what already looked to be a very good major league roster back into championship contention. When they inked him to a 10 year, $341MM extension, they were hoping to secure their star for years to come.

Given what we know about contracts of the 10 year variety, it is reasonable to opine that this deal will not end well for the Mets, especially considering how the Albert Pujols deal turned out and how the Miguel Cabrera contract looks currently. It’s probably more reasonable however to think that this deal is much more likely to be a net positive. After all, Pujols and Cabrera were both in their thirties when they signed their deals and already fulltime first basemen.

At 27, Lindor is a much younger, much more dynamic player — a shortstop, and an elite defending one at that. Even if he falls off a cliff at 35, if all goes to plan, the Mets will have gotten Lindor’s best years.

To start the 2021 season, however, Lindor has hit to a pedestrian .202/.321/.275 line with a 78 wRC+. Under the hood, there are some encouraging signs to suggest a turnaround may be coming, such as an 88th percentile walk rate as well as a refusal to swing and miss both inside and outside of the zone, but a 23rd percentile barrel rate, 31st percentile xBA and a just below league average xwOBA (which factors in the walks) signal the opposite.

Since the start of the 2020 season, Lindor has posted a combined .241/.330/.371 for a 94 wRC+. The batted ball metrics were a little more in his favor that in ‘20, but it was another year of offensive decline for Mr. Smile:

Am I saying that Lindor is over the hill or that he will not regain his form as a solidly above average hitter? No. Truthfully, as good of a defender as he is, league average offense still nets a valuable player for the Mets. But to be fair, this trend does not look great, for the Mets or for Lindor.

Lindor’s struggles could be due to a number of different factors. First, he seems to be a little more passive in his approach at the plate:

As you can see, Lindor’s Z-Swing percentage is on a three-year decline, and this year for the first time he is below the league average.

In addition to the more passive approach, Lindor has been driving more of his batted balls into the ground than even before:

Now, hitting more ground balls isn’t necessarily bad on it’s own, but ground balls on nearly half of a hitter’s batted balls is a little excessive. Lindor does have a 73rd percentile sprint speed, and hitters like him can still have success with a high ground ball rate so long as they are consistently hitting the ball hard, or at least pulling the ball.

But Lindor is doing neither of those things, and now we can start to understand his struggles a little bit more:

There is no doubt that Lindor has the tools to turn this around — he is only a few years removed from being a perennial five to seven win player. Even though there are some adjustments that need to be made, we know that a .213 BABIP and a .073 ISO won’t hold.

If Lindor wants to regain his elite form, a switch back to a more aggressive approach could do him well, and a return to more pulled balls in the air could be the result. For the division-leading Mets, it would be exactly what they need to pull away from the pack.

Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.