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Francisco Lindor should easily win AL Rookie of the Year if defense really matters

Do you want to reward the all-around great season or the flashy home run power?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time during the 2015 season that the American League Rookie of the Year award looked like it was in the bag for Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. Thinking of scenarios where Francisco Lindor could win was fun for Cleveland Indians fans, but no would argue if Correa won it. Now, after he surged to be one of the best players in the second half of the season, Lindor is the easy winner if defense really matters in awards.

Lindor was called up six days after Correa, but both rookie shortstops played exactly 99 games in 2015. In that time, Lindor racked up 122 hits, 22 doubles, four triples, 12 home runs, and stole 12 bases. All of this adds up to an impressive .313/.353/.482 slash.

Post All-Star break (after July 17) is when Lindor really began to take off. Maybe those few days away from the game did something good, or maybe he elevated his play to help the Indians get into the playoffs, but either way he was phenomenal. Lindor hit for a .345/.386/.544 slash (154 wRC+), including 10 of his home runs in the final half of the season. All the while playing the same highlight reel defense that landed him in the Majors in the first place.

Comparing the seasons of Lindor and Correa, the offensive difference is obvious: Correa has more power. He hit 10 more home runs than Lindor and finished the season with a .030 higher slugging percentage (although Lindor hit more triples, but I do not usually count that as "power"). What he lacked in power, Lindor more than made up for in getting on base and striking out less.

Player PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG fWAR
Lindor 438 12 6.2% 15.8% .313 .353 .482 4.6
Correa 432 22 9.3% 18.1% .279 .345 .512 3.3

Lindor’s biggest offensive benefit was his inflated .348 BABIP, compared to Correa’s .296--but should that matter? If I had a vote, I would say no. At least to me, awards are about rewarding the outcome of what a player does. If some level of "luck" is involved, so be it. The hits still happened, the balls were put in the right place, and it should not diminish one’s season-by-season accomplishments.

The deal-breaker, as far as setting these future All-Stars apart, is defense. By every measurable standard, Francisco Lindor was the superior defender in 2015. This should come as no surprise, as Lindor was never expected to have a bat; he has always been a defense-first shortstop. Conversely, Correa is a player who was no stranger to extra-base hits in the minor leagues, even if they weren’t always home runs, and he batted leagues above the competition at every level.

While it is always worth mentioning that errors are an imperfect way to measure defense, Lindor finished with 10, while Correa finished with 13. Correa leads Lindor in other counting defensive stats like putouts, double plays started, and assists, but he was also manning the infield behind a pitching staff was ranked 5th in ground ball percentage (47.7%), compared to the Indians being ranked 19th (44.5%). It wasn’t that Correa was magically better at turning double plays, he just had more opportunities to do so.

According to Inside Edge Fielding--a defensive metric that uses scouts to determine if every single play was Impossible, Remote, Unlikely, Even, Likely, or Routine--Lindor was better across the board than Correa. The two were close on Routine and Likely plays, as you’d expect from any competent shortstop, but Lindor successfully turned 14% more Unlikely plays than Correa. Neither turned any Remote or Impossible plays.

Player Unlikely Even Likely Routine
Lindor 66.7% 77.8% 84.6% 96.6%
Correa 52.9% 63.6% 83.6% 96.3%

And as the final nail in the defensive coffin, Lindor finished with a 10.5 UZR and an 18.9 UZR/150 (which normalizes the small sample size of a season's worth of UZR over 150 games), while Correa finished with a -6.0 UZR and a -13.7 UZR/150.

Let’s not to lie to ourselves, though. Correa’s team went to the playoffs, Correa was the bigger prospect, and Correa hit more home runs--he is probably going to win the American League Rookie of the Year. It is not a tragedy by any stretch, but if defense really matters in the mind of voters, Lindor would be the easy winner. I just suspect that it does not.

Besides, we all know awards are stupid and do not matter anyway (unless our guy wins, then they are validating and a true measurement of skill).