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Let’s pretend we’ve reached the All-Star break.
Your favorite team’s shortstop has played in 79 games and put up a .246/.330/.380 slash line, with nine home runs in 305 at-bats. He shines defensively and draws universal acclaim for his energy and leadership.
You’d take that, right?
Would you take it for $341 million, though?
Surprise! We’re talking about Francisco Lindor (yeah, you figured that out instantly). And when contemplating his very poor start with his new team, one that has slapped him with the first home-crowd boos of his celebrated career, it seems rather relevant to bring up his final season with his original team.
Which is how we get to that 79-game count: All 60 games with the Indians in 2020 plus all 19 of the Mets’ games in 2021. Meld his dreadful .203/.317/.261 slash line this season with the .258/.335/.415 he posed with the Indians last year, which established or tied career lows in all three counts, and it instantly becomes a less small sample.
I sure as heck am not ready to proclaim that Lindor won’t return to the .288/.347/.493 heights he climbed from the enormous sample of 2015 through 2019, the heights which the Mets clearly banked on the 27-year-old to rediscover when they signed him to the largest pact for a shortstop in baseball history. However, neither do I think it would be smart to completely shrug off what amounts to a half-season of offensive decline.
Lindor, professing no concern, told reporters on Wednesday of Mets fans, “I just hope they cheer and jump on the field when I start hitting home runs and start helping the team on a daily basis a lot more than I’m doing right now.”
The five-tool player (in the past, at least) can find more than five reasons for his multi-season slippage. Last year, naturally, “was the COVID year,” as former White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper put it Thursday in a telephone interview. And this year brings Lindor (who hit extremely well in spring training, for whatever that’s worth) the challenge of adapting to a new team, new league and new expectations that comes with signing a ginormous contract in a big market.
Said Ron Gardenhire, who managed the Tigers against Lindor’s Cleveland bunch the prior three seasons, Thursday in a telephone interview: “I wouldn’t throw him away yet. He’s the kind of guy who’s going to help you keep your manager’s job if you just let him play.”
As a Met, Lindor has walked more often (13.3 percent of his plate appearances) and struck out less frequently (12 percent) than last year (9 and 15.4 percent, respectively). What stands out most from a look under the hood is that he simply isn’t striking the ball with any level of authority. His average exit velocity stands at 88.3 miles per hour, a career nadir, as per Baseball Savant, and he is hitting the ball on the ground (52.5 percent) the most in his career since his 2015 rookie season while sitting on a worst-ever line-drive rate (18 percent).
In 2020, Lindor actually set a career peak for line-drive rate (33 percent). This season’s exit-velocity drop, however, follows a significant one last year to 89.9 mph after averaging 91 mph in 2019.
So some metrics align to create a two-season picture and others don’t. In addition to all of the adjustments emanating from the big trade, there’s also the fact that March-April represents Lindor’s worst career month (.777 OPS), better than only June (.762 OPS).
If Lindor got off to this sort of start with a team on which he coached, Cooper said, “I wouldn’t be sitting here saying, ‘Holy (bleep), what did we do? I’m saying the opposite. I’m saying, ‘We’ve got ourselves a shortstop for the next 10 years.’”
This 2020-21 version of Lindor can be a championship shortstop. He’d also be a serious overpay, though, and with so many other Mets slumping, no one is talking championship at the moment.
No, here at our imaginary All-Star break, you want to see Lindor come out on the other side looking more like the first half … of his career. You simply can’t know for sure that’s coming.
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