Lost in all the sadness of a rough start, a losing record, and a last-place team in one of the worst divisions in baseball there’s stands a beacon of hope. Normally lit by the defense and smile of Francisco Lindor, the lighthouse of our baseball joy has added a completely new dimension: power. And he’s on pace for one of the best Aprils in team history.
Entering play Monday, Lindor has an OPS of 1.138. Or, breaking it down into its most basic parts, he has an on-base percentage of .436 and a slugging percentage of .702. He has walked in 12.5 percent of his at-bats and one or two minor gaffes aside, he is still turning incredible defensive play after incredible defensive play. Without Lindor’s grand slam in the finale of the Opening Series the Cleveland Indians would have one fewer win this season, and without him on the field at all it’s hard to see how they win more than a couple, given how the rest of the lineup is playing.
In a vacuum, this all sounds like the makings of a historic start to the season. It absolutely is, but before we get to that, let’s take a look at just how much he stands in the current leaderboards.
Lindor is breaking the mold of a 2017 power hitter
According to FanGraphs, Francisco Lindor is one of only three players to be worth one win above replacement to this point in the season. After 11 games. The best players in the game are worth 10 over a full season. Now, to be fair, the other two are Chase Headley and Eric Thames, so I’m not saying having 1.0 WAR after two weeks means you’re great a player forever, but there’s no way to deny these three have been fantastic so to start the season.
Speaking strictly offensively, Lindor is seventh in wRC+, behind some interesting names such as Avisail Garcia, Zack Cozart, Khris Davis, and Marcell Ozuna. The big difference between Lindor and the players in front of him is strikeout rate.
Like most of major-league baseball, Lindor is focusing on hitting the ball up more. It’s a reason MLB is on pace for a record number of home runs this season, and it’s one of the reasons many players are finding power they never had before. So far in 2017, like most players, Lindor is elevating the ball much more than he has in recent years.
Looking at his 2016 launch angles, most of his batted balls sat in the 0- to 20-degree range. While this year — small sample size warning implied — most of his stuff has been above the 20-degree mark.
What this elevated swing path has done for Lindor has opened the door to even more home runs. We were surprised when he hit 12 in half a season in 2015. We were surprised when he hit 15 over a full season last year. He’s probably going to surprise us again in 2017; he’s already at four, including that Texas grand slam.
Part of this new hitting philosophy also involves striking out more. You swing, damnit. You swing and you hit something hard. If you miss, you swing again.
But that hasn’t been the case for Lindor so far.
As previously stated, he’s whiffed just 14.3 percent of the time. Every player in the league currently enjoying a higher wRC+ than Lindor also has a much higher strikeout rate ranging from 18.4 percent (Chase Headley) to 25.0 percent (Eric Thames).
Strikeout rates are of the earliest statistics to stabilize, usually around 60 plate appearances. Lindor is already at 56, so this might be what we get from him all season. A touch worse than the 12.9 percent strikeout rate he had last season, but better than the 15.8 percent he struck out in rookie season and better than most seasons he has had in the minors. Walk rates take a bit longer to stabilize at 120 PA — and Lindor way above his 7.7 percent average — but his approach at the plate looks superb so far this season.
A Ben Broussard-esque start to the season (but in a good way)
Alright, enough of that. How about the reason you probably clicked this post. See, it’s not click bait, I got to the history eventually. Unless you’ve already abandoned the post and complained on Facebook. In which case, sorry.
Assuming Lindor keeps up this blistering pace for at least another 13 days, which is difficult but not entirely impossible, he would be one of only 17 Indians players in history to start the season with an OPS greater than 1.110 and more than 50 plate appearances.
It’s good company, to say the least.
Best March/Aprils in Cleveland history
|Shoeless Joe Jackson||1913||62||.353||.459||.667||1.126||.383||242|
Another interesting note is that Lindor has the fifth-lowest BABIP on the list. It will fluctuate between now and April 30, of course, but a .361 BABIP over a month is not exactly out of the question for Lindor. He had a .348 BABIP in his rookie season and a .324 BABIP last year. With how unlucky the rest of the Indians are right now, at least one player deserves some good fortune, right?
If you have not taken a moment out of your day to be thankful for Francisco Lindor, there is never a bad time. Do it now, and do it often.