Francisco Lindor is a monster and we aren’t talking about him nearly enough.
It might be the defensive hiccups he’s had over the last week, but even with winning American League Player of the Week, Lindor — one of the league’s best players and one of the few marketable personalities — seems to be flying under the radar while he has the best offensive week of his professional career.
On the surface, Lindor is only tied for third in FanGraphs WAR behind Mookie Betts and Mike Trout at 2.7. It just so happens he’s tied with his own teammate, Jose Ramirez, which is another story in itself. Lindor (and Ramirez for that matter) is only one off the league-lead mark in home runs as well, belting 12 in his 185 plate appearances.
Those are season numbers, which are still small sample sizes, and also include Lindor’s ice cold start to the season. Looking at just the last two weeks, roughly 13 games for most players, Lindor is the leader in just about everything and it’s not even close. His wRC+ is a ridiculous 308 in 64 plate appearances, 78 points higher than second place Mookie Betts. He’s also hit eight home runs in that short amount of time, thanks to two multi-home run games. Oh yeah, and he’s riding a 14-game hitting streak, all but three of which were multi-hit efforts.
I’m not sure how long he can keep this up, but if it’s going to ended by anybody, it’s probably going to be his own exhaustion. Teams have tried a bit of everything to slow down this insane pace, but none of it seems to be working. He’s reached cartoon villain status where all the heroes throw themselves at him and nothing works. If he suddenly reveals that he hasn’t a giant laser cannon aimed at the moon in the coming days, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
The thing that sticks out the most to me is that opposing teams are starting to try and shift on him. Throughout the first three years of his career, Lindor was shifted on 22 times in 1,816 plate appearances. In the beginning it made sense not to shift on him, because he wasn’t seen as much of an offense threat. Even after he established himself as a superstar at the plate, he was good at hitting the ball all over the field. Shifting wouldn’t stop him.
In 2018 with 166 plate appearances on record, opposing teams have already shifted on him 25 times. Most notably, 22 of those shifts have come when he’s batting left-handed; 19.8 percent of the time he comes up to the plate as a lefty, opposing defenses are shifting, compared to the 2.1 shift-against percent as a lefty last season and the 0.2 shift-against percent as a lefty in 2016.
It does sort of make sense if you’re trying to squeeze every bit of potential advantage you can against one of baseball’s best hitters. When he started becoming a power hitter last season (sorry Frankie, it’s true), he did start pulling the ball 42.7 percent of the time as a lefty and his oppo-percentage dropped eight percent. So maybe there is something to shifting against him when he bats as a southpaw. Maybe scouting and numbers of have finally found a way to stop him.
Narrator voice: “They didn’t.”
According to Baseball Savant, Lindor has a wOBA (a modified version of on-base plus slugging that accurately weights the value of on-base percentage) of .383 against left-handed pitchers with a defense straight up and a wOBA of .608 against the shift as a lefty. It’s 22 plate appearances, so right now it’s whatever, but teams are already trying something dramatically different to stop Lindor and the early results are not in their favor.
Credit to those scouts who saw the slight uptick in pull percentage and thought to try shifting, but it’s not there anymore. Lindor is back to pulling the ball around 39 percent as a lefty, and he’s hitting it to opposite field more than ever at 28.6 percent, well above his 23.9 percent career average.
Overall, Lindor has evolved to another level of hitting in the first month-and-a-half of 2018. His launch angle is higher, he’s hitting the ball harder, and the results have been there to a historic degree over the past week. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.