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Francisco Lindor is Still a Star
One huge piece of evidence points to a major rebound for the Mets' $341 million shortstop.
If you had to guess, what was Francisco Lindor’s BABIP last year?
Clearly, it can’t have been league-average (.300, give or take), because Lindor had a bad year. That much is obvious. He was striking out more than usual, but not that much more than usual; his BABIP must have gone down. So how low do you think it went?
.290? Maybe a little lower. Down to .280? That might make sense. .270? That would be really low, but maybe that explains Lindor’s .734 OPS last season. .260? It can’t have been that low, can it? .250? Now we’re just being ridiculous.
It sounds that way — but it’s not. Lindor’s BABIP in 2021 was .248. Two-forty-eight. That was seventh lowest in all of baseball. Of the six players below him, only Andrew McCutchen and Eugenio Suárez have higher career BABIPs than Lindor’s .292.
Obviously, player analysis is a lot more complicated than “his BABIP was low last year, so it will be higher next year.” Except, in Lindor’s case…it almost isn’t? All of Lindor’s offensive indicators stayed strong last year — his walk rate was high, his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate were high, he didn’t strike out that much. He got off to a terrible start and slumped through April and May, started to find his stroke in June, then missed five weeks with an oblique strain in July and August just as he was really heating up. After his return in September, he was on fire: he slashed .257/.346/.549 with nine home runs in 30 games.
Lindor will likely never be the .300 hitter he was in his first few years in Cleveland. But with a BABIP that low, likely to rebound, he’s also better than he was last season. Add to that the fact that he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, and it starts to seem almost absurdly premature to write his contract off as a failure, or even an overpay.
To be clear, it’s not just BABIP: Lindor did get a little worse last year at the margins. He struck out a tad more than usual. His exit velocity numbers were down, but still excellent. On the other hand, he actually walked more than ever, and his xwOBA was right around where it’s been his entire career, or indeed higher. Credit bad luck, manifesting as lower BABIP, with most of Lindor’s decline in 2021. What’s left could be anything: more bad luck, injuries, swing troubles, adjusting to New York, something else. Mets fans will just need to hope it’s something Lindor can fix.
And judging by his monstrous September, it is. Obviously, anyone can have a hot stretch for a month, but it’s perhaps telling that Lindor was almost invisible on offense for the first two months of the season, then mostly excellent for the next four. From June 1st through the end of the season, Lindor batted .252/.340/.482, for an .822 OPS. Some important part of his offensive drop-off might have changed or worn off around the halfway point of the 2021 season — which, in optimistic scenarios, means that all Lindor needs to do is find some luck and bring his BABIP back up, and he’ll return to near the hitter he was at his peak in Cleveland.
You know who Lindor reminds me of? Maybe it’s obvious, but Curtis Granderson. In 2014, his first season as a Met, Granderson was dreadful in April and May. On May 31st, he was batting .198/.317/.348. But he had a fantastic June, a solid July, an awful August, and a spectacular September, and in 2015 he raised his OPS more than 100 points, from .714 to .821.
Lindor can do the same thing. Maybe even more, since Lindor is a lot younger than Granderson was, and his ceiling is higher. People tend to forget how recently Lindor has been great. He was worth 7.2 bWAR (7.7 fWAR) in 2018, and 4.8 bWAR (4.7 bWAR) in 2019. Then there was the 60-game 2020 season, which should barely count for anything (I mean, the Marlins made the playoffs). Then there was 2021 — but Lindor had a .248 BABIP, which happens to the best of us and doesn’t say anything about how he’ll do in 2022. He’s had some down time since life has been disrupted, but he can still be a star.
Fangraphs’ Steamer projects Lindor to raise his OPS to .792 next year. Baseball-Reference projects .761. I think both might be too conservative. As Lindor showed in the second half of last season, along with his glove and his speed, he’s still an excellent power hitter. It wouldn’t be shocking if he brought his OPS back above .800 — and if he does, he’ll be yet another weapon in a Mets lineup that could be full of them.