This is him. This is the guy, the straw that stirs the drink, the talisman of the Cleveland Indians.
Since Francisco Lindor debuted back in 2015, he has been the bellwether for the team, the piece you could look to performance-wise — even in micro doses — and know that’s how the Indians are doing. The 2019 campaign was no different.
As dreadful as watching April was, what made it most painful was a decided lack of Lindor in the lineup. He’s such a magnificent player in so many ways, his impact is so incredible everywhere on the field, you could just tell there was a magic missing from the Indians as he recovered from a calf strain. Even as they were 12-7 at his return — and lost the second half of the Apr. 20 double-header, his season debut — it was a lank, sad 12-7. A fan can suffer through a lot if they at least have a Lindor to look forward to every nine batters.
Which is not to say that once he came back, it was all sunshine and roses. In the 25 games after Lindor debuted — basically his spring training — the Indians went 12-13 and found themselves 5.5 games behind the Twins in the division. Lindor held a respectable but not quite good .286/.330/.459 line along with five home runs, simultaneously giving hope for an outburst and frustration with the general floundering of the team. It felt like it was simply a matter of time at that point, but without knowing it time had run out for the Indians.
That outburst did come, and it was more a torrent than simply a splash. From May 18 through the All-Star break, where Lindor truly earned the right to represent his city, he posted a .907 OPS and helped lift the Indians to a 26-18 record over that span.. Even with his partner in crime José Ramírez turning into a turnip for the first half, Lindor was doing what he could, and ultimately succeeding, at keeping the Indians in the race. It wasn’t just him — Carlos Santana’s career year helped, so did finding Oscar Mercado and of course the pitching was always strong — but it was Lindor who was the one leading the charge.
Like the Indians divisional contention, this carried on through August, that torrent seemingly unceasing. That month was Lindor’s second best by OPS at .928, and his eight home runs were the most of any month this season. That was also the month the Indians very briefly overtook the Twins for first place too, and it looked like everything was righting itself. The All-Star was carrying the load, the team was performing like we expected, and the Twins just seemed to be coming back to earth.
None of this held true. From when the Tribe took first place on Aug. 12 with a walk-off win against the Red Sox to the end of the season, they played perfect .500 baseball, going 22-22.
Lindor played every game. Which is good, right? You want your stars to play all the time. He was also dreck in September, popping a .218/.269/.436 line. In all, and despite missing three weeks, Lindor totaled 654 plate appearances, leading everyone in PA’s from Apr. 20 onward. It’s interesting that according to Cleveland.com Terry Francona said he tried to give Lindor days off, but the shortstop always found a way to talk his way back into the lineup. As our own Matt Lyons noted on Twitter, it’s a shame there’s no authority figure that could have stepped in and forced Lindor to take a day or two off to let him rest, and keep his production up. Ah well, some things are unsolvable.
If you wanted to prorate the 4.7 rWAR Lindor was worth this year out to 162 games, you end up at 5.3, which would be the worst of his career so far. FanGraphs isn’t much more encouraging, just 4.9 prorated fWAR. That’s a rough and tumble way of looking at wins above replacement, flawed even, but it speaks to just how much that lack of spring training and lack of rest in the second half really took its toll on Lindor. It was a bare three wins that separated the Indians from the playoffs, which only serves to fuel the what-ifs that surround this whole team.
This was the guy, or one of the handful, that gave any hope for the Indians coming into the season. His getting hurt was like a distant bell ringing, a quiet, vibrating note through March that this year wasn’t going to be as easy, as boring even, as years past. He was as excellent as ever, captivating to watch as much with his glove as with his bat. It hurts to think that we’re on borrowed time with Lindor if the front office doesn’t do something drastic, and knowing we missed even 50 at-bats from him feels like robbery. He put everything on the field this year though, and like every year he’s been with the Indians he did all he could to lift his team to its highest height.
He did what stars do, and his team followed his lead.