There has been a great deal of discussion within both the local media and Indians Twitter in regards to the Indians’ activity, or rather, lack thereof this offseason. Whatever your position may be on how the offseason has played out thus far, everyone just needs to slow down, relax, and take a deep breath. And why is that? Well, here are two words for you…
In the simplest of terms, Francisco Lindor is really good at baseball. He is also a Cleveland Indian. These are important facts to take into consideration when attempting to project how the Indians will fare in 2018. As long as Francisco Lindor is healthy and performing there is no reason to expect anything but another competitive season from the Tribe.
With that thought in mind we can peel back yet another layer of the onion. Sure, the Indians will be competitive, but how competitive? Well, the answer to that question is dependent upon the answer to another far more interesting question; Have we seen the best that Francisco Lindor has to offer or can he keep getting better?
So why exactly is this question important? For starters, history tells us that so goes Francisco Lindor, so goes the Indians. This was especially true of the 2017 season.
Lindor began the 2017 season on a tear offensively. In the first month of the season, a month in which the Indians got off to a 14-10 start to catapult themselves into first place in the AL Central, Lindor slashed .309/.380/.638 while scoring 20 runs and bashing seven home runs and driving in 17. His OPS+ was an exceptional 177 during this time span with an accompanying BABIP of .301, right around league average.
In the months that followed, Lindor’s production waned and thus the Indians found themselves mired in mediocrity.
In May, Lindor struggled to repeat the production and success he found in April, slashing .245/.313/.451 for the month. June was even worse. Lindor fell off a cliff slashing .214/.261/.339. In the two months combined, Lindor only managed seven homers, 24 runs scored and 21 RBI. It’s no coincidence the Indians limped their way to a 28-26 record (42-36 overall) while looking lackluster and uninspired night after night.
The struggles were attributed to approach. The uptick in power, or more accurately, the expectations of power gave way to poor, pull happy tendencies and an overall lack of patience at the plate. With each subsequent poor at bat Lindor pressed a little more, cratering his OBP and robbing him of the thing that made him great – his ability to hit to all fields. As a result, Lindor rolled over on more pitches creating weak contact rollers and pop-ups. The patience to work counts and draw walks all but disappeared and along with it the trademark smile. The game stopped being fun.
But then a funny thing happened. A promotion to the top spot in the order combined with a new approach focused on lining the ball back through the middle gave way to results. Slowly but surely, those result chipped away at the sulking façade and gave way to the Francisco Lindor we knew and loved… the Francisco Lindor that would lead a second-half charge unlike anything we have ever seen.
The second half of the season gave way to an offensive explosion for Lindor. After the all-star break, he compiled a slash line of .298/.366/.563. He belted 19 homeruns, eventually settling on 33 for the season. His OPS+ climbed from 104 pre-all-star break to 145 after. He was the Francisco Lindor we had all come to know and love and as a result the Indians took off as a team, compiling a .733 winning percentage and completing a magical 22 game winning streak.
And while the 2017 season did not end the way we had all hoped, one thing became abundantly clear. Francisco Lindor was a bona fide superstar, an annual 5+ wins above replacement MVP caliber player, the face of the franchise and one of maybe five faces of baseball.
Oh, and don’t forget about the defense. Lindor was once again a finalist for the gold glove award, losing out to the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons.
So, the question remains, what’s left? How much better can Francisco Lindor be? Is there even room left for improvement?
Undoubtedly, the answer to those questions is terrifying for anyone who is not a fan of the Cleveland Indians. Lindor will enter 2018 in his age 24 season; still three to four years away from what is typically defined as a professional athlete’s prime years. So, without question, one should assume that the best is only yet to come for Francisco Lindor.
Statistically speaking the greater majority of 2018 analysts project Lindor to put up offensive numbers similar to what we saw from him in 2017. As of this writing, two of the more heavily relied open projections (Steamer and PECOTA) have Lindor slashing in the .290/.350/.490 ranges with an expected power output of around 25 home runs, 100 runs scored, and 90 driven in resulting in five to six wins above replacement.
Out of those numbers, the biggest question moving forward will obviously be the power output. With 33 homeruns in 2017, Lindor set new career marks for himself and for the franchise when It comes to shortstops. That’s also considering a two month stretch of offensive ineptitude that nearly tanked his season. All things considered it was quite the accomplishment.
This can largely be attributed to the drastic increase in Lindor’s fly ball rate from 2016 to 2017. Similar to the results seen by new teammate Yonder Alonso, Lindor benefitted immensely from getting the ball in the air more, 42% of the time up from 28% in 2015 and 2016. And while this is all well and good in the vacuum of a single season, it remains to be seen whether this result can be duplicated in 2018. If it can, we should expect to see another home run barrage from Lindor in 2018.
And while those projections are all well and good, I believe the biggest impact on Francisco Lindor’s success in 2018 will be the failures of 2017. This is where the real growth will occur and what ultimately will help propel Lindor to the next level of baseball’s upper elites. Learning to make adjustments and persevering in the face of failure, these are the qualities that propel great players to a next level of greatness. It’s ultimately what might help Francisco Lindor make the leap to true, historic greatness.
By all accounts, Lindor has taken the right approach. Based on comments made so far during camp, Lindor worked harder than ever this offseason (did you see those biceps?) and is ready to avenge last season’s early postseason exit. He’s even said as much during interviews, emphasizing that the Indians need to finish. They need to finish after two straight years of heartbreaking postseason collapses. But you know what? I would argue that Lindor and the Indians are just getting started.