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A closer look at Francisco Lindor’s increased power

The Tribe shortstop cracked 20 home runs, but is having a merely average offensive season.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend, Francisco Lindor cracked the 20 home run barrier for the first time in his young career. This is yet another milestone that admittedly few thought he'd reach before he hit the majors — he was supposed to be Andrelton Simmons with a better bat, but this is a level he wasn't supposed to see until 27 or so. He just keeps being better and better. Despite this unlikely power output, he's having his "worst" offensive season with a mere 104 wRC+. Hopefully he hasn't changed too much.

The predominance of Lindor's offensive output last year, and the year prior for that matter, was driven by a heavy dose of ground balls and liners. This year though, the fly balls have crept in:

Lindor Batted Ball Profile

Year LD% GB% FB%
Year LD% GB% FB%
2015 20.6 50.8 28.7
2016 22.4 49.2 28.4
2017 19.3 39.4 41.3

This has led to a corresponding BABIP drop, since the non-dinger fly ball (and the pro-dinger fly ball, since it’s not in play) has a very low to nil average BABIP.

Last year his batted balls found grass at a .324 clip, and .348 the year prior. This year, backing up his comparatively paltry .266/.324/.466 slash line is a .272 BABIP. Typically you'd look at this and think LIndor is due some positive regression. And he has been better in the second half, hitting .297/.346/.480 since the break which is good for a 119 wRC+. But this isn’t just because of regression. He’s seen a 3.2 point drop in his fly ball rate in the second half to 39 percent, which has been plowed into his line drive rate. He certainly has shown a lot of pop, and if he does hit like this he’ll maintain his place of prominence in the Cleveland Indians lineup. His batting average will just never be the type to win titles. Not that we care about batting average anymore. It was just neat to have a .300 hitting shortstop. I suppose a homer launching one is nice too.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, 22 shortstops 23 years old or younger have hit at least 20 home runs in a season. Alex Rodriguez hit 36 at age 20 and 42 as both a 22 and 23-year-old. He was a freak. Francisco Lindor is not Alex Rodriguez, but he's still in vaunted company even if this season puts him 17th in OPS on that list of 22 men. The two players bookending him, Tom Tresh and Ron Hanson, both played forever ago, and Tresh at least went on to a 22 WAR career. His defense was never as sterling as Lindor's, but he was decent. He was evidently a good left fielder later in his career, but that’s not shortstop. The rest of the list runs the gamut from Dale Sveum to A-Rod to Cal Ripken and Corey Seager. It’s mostly a good list to be on.

Maybe this means nothing. After all, I picked a couple arbitrary numbers that our minds like to process because they’re round and compared him to different players from other eras.

There are other marks against Lindor. He’s walking less than he did last year, striking out more than ever. But that’s about it. I tried to find trends in his plate discipline marks and batted ball rates, something to be a harbinger of doom. Maybe I was in a bad mood at work, I don’t know. But it turns out he’s still just great. He swings at balls out of the zone 30.8 percent of the time, about as much as Eric Hosmer or Charlie Blackmon, his contact rate is 18th in baseball, his swinging strike rate is 24th, and his hard hit ball rate has climbed 10 points from his debut two years ago to 35.2 percent. That’s higher than Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts or Mike Moustakas. That doesn’t mean everything (or anything) by itself, but combined with his lower than average chase rate and his high contact rate, there’s more than just a 20ish home run, 105-110 wRC+ hitter in there.

If his second half is any indication, this new flyball-heavy Lindor is just getting started.