Terry Francona loves his veterans. His teams average 19th in batter age, and two-thirds of Tito’s teams have ranked in the older 50 percent of the league. Of course, he has good reason to trust his veterans: his two World Series championship teams had an average batter age of 30.1 and 30.4 years — there’s method to his madness.
Though only 24 years old, Francisco Lindor is a seasoned veteran, having helped lead the Indians to a World Series berth and a record-setting 22-game win streak. So, when he expressed his desire to hit leadoff this year, Tito had to listen.
Of course, the convincing part was easy. Coming into the 2018 season, Lindor had produced some of his best numbers out of the leadoff spot, hitting .281 with a .904 OPS while blasting 18 home runs with 47 RBI and nine stolen bases. And with actual sense overtaking common sense in the baseball world (i.e., managers putting their best hitters higher in the order so they will garner more plate appearances), batting Lindor first was practically a no-brainer.
For his part, Frankie has delivered. Boy, has he delivered.
As Matt Schlichting discussed last week, Lindor and Jose Ramirez may be the best left-side duo ever. But although Jose has the edge on the WAR and All-Star voting leaderboards, Frankie is every bit as amazing this year.
Among players with at least 40 games in the leadoff spot, Lindor is elite. In counting stats, the Tribe shortstop has the most hits, doubles, and total bases; he ranks second in home runs, average, slugging, OPS, and RBI. Among the accumulative stats, Frankie is first in defensive WAR second in overall bWAR, runs above replacement, and offensive WAR. If the other-worldly Mookie Betts hit anywhere else in the order, Lindor would be, unquestionably, the best leadoff hitter in baseball.
Despite that pesky Betts, Lindor has established himself as one of the finest table-setters in all of Major League Baseball. Relative to league-average leadoff hitters (.254/.328/.414, 105 OPS+), Lindor is hitting 3.6% higher, reaching base 3.4% more often, and slugging 11.5% higher; his overall offensive production, as measured by OPS+, is 30% better than average leadoff hitters (135 vs. 105).
In terms of wins, Frankie’s 4 bWAR is just one decimal point shy of the combined total of Trey Mancini (-1.4), Jesse Winker (-1.1), Charlie Blackmon (-0.8), Dee Gordon (0.2), Curtis Granderson (0.3), Josh Harrison (0.4), Yoan Moncada (0.9), Ender Inciarte (1.1), Ian Kinsler (1.2), Brian Dozier (1.5), and Leonys Martin (1.8) combined (all of whom have hit leadoff at least 30 times this season). The combined cost of those players this year is $64,906,500, an average of $5,900,591; Lindor, on the other hand will be compensated $623,200. Whether you prefer to take the average value of the players Frankie is far outproducing or the average value of a win in 2018 (estimated to be $8 million; at his current pace Lindor would be worth $72 million this year), the amount of surplus value the Indians are receiving is staggering.
His value to the Indians is also historic. At his current pace, Lindor would finish the year with 8.9 bWAR, which would make him the most valuable leadoff hitter in Indians history by a margin of 1.4 wins. Not only would Frankie surpass Kenny Lofton’s best seasons, but he would blow them away (said as a card-carrying member of the “Lofton is the greatest snub in Hall of Fame history” club). Lindor is sure to have a down stretch and maybe a couple additional days off, which could slow his pace, but barring something catastrophic (please, pray to whatever entity you choose that this does not happen) Lindor’s 2018 is on track to make him the greatest Tribe leadoff hitter of all time.
All-time best Indians leadoff hitters
Lindor has long been the most fun player in all of baseball (I will die on this hill), and this season has been no exception. Watching him the rest of the year, as he attempts to be the best leadoff hitter in team history, will certainly be even more fun.