Francisco Lindor may have already played his final game in a Tribe uniform, but I will save the career retrospective for when the ending to his tenure in Cleveland has been written in ink.
For now, let’s focus on his would-be final season, which, in a cruel twist of fate, was by far his worst with the Indians. But first, a confession: It has been a drag watching and writing about Lindor this season, not knowing whether the clock would strike midnight this year or the next. So I can only imagine what it was like for him to play with that cloud of uncertainty looming over him during an abbreviated season that was essentially a pale imitation of a normal year.
If it affected his play, it showed. Lindor finished the season with a career-worst .258 AVG, tied for a career-worst .335 OBP, a career-worst .415 SLG, and a career-worst 100 wRC+. That’s a lot of career worsts. His strikeout percentage reached 15.4%, the highest strikeout rate he has recorded since his rookie season. Lindor’s isolated power also retreated to .157, the lowest ISO of his career since 2016, the year before he put up an eye-popping 33 home runs in a surprise show of power.
According to Baseball Savant, he recorded a career-high 36.5 sweet spot percentage and his 41.1 hard hit percentage is nearly identical to his percentages in 2018 and 2019. But Lindor only barreled 5.6% of the balls he put in play, the lowest barrel rate of his career since 2016. It’s difficult not to connect this with his seeming inability to hit breaking balls this season. He slashed .169/.226/.322 against breaking pitches, which accounted for 28.8% of the pitches he faced in 2020. That is his worst slash line against breaking pitches since his rookie year.
Lindor has also become more of a pull hitter the last two seasons. In 2019, he pulled 41.4% of the balls he put in play, which would be a career-high if not for his 44.2% mark in 2020. In 2018, his best season at the plate, Lindor pulled 36.8% of batted balls and went to the opposite field on 27.7%. That oppo percentage dropped to 23.4% in 2020. This seems to have made him more predictable as hitter, and opposing teams are utilizing the shift against him more than ever before. Teams implemented the shift on 62.6% of his left-handed at-bats and 28.8% of his right-handed at-bats in 2020, compared to 32.2% and 0%, respectively, in 2019.
Or perhaps his struggles were born from trying to adjust to beat the shift. It could be a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. The caveat here, obviously, is that 2020 represents a small sample size. Lindor is an elite talent and could easily return to form next year as if the 2020 season was merely an off year, which would be understandable given the extraordinary circumstances.
But for now, Indians fans have been put in an awkward position by the stalemate between Lindor and the Cleveland front office. We’re left to wonder whether one of the best players in franchise history will get one last chance to make a proper farewell, while that voice of reason in the back of our minds sighs and reminds us that Lindor’s tenure in Cleveland is all but over.
And now it’s on us to accept that yet another Cleveland sports story must end in heartbreak.