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“If Francisco Lindor were your shortstop, he would be perfect.” Emma Baccellieri, Baseball Prospectus 2017 Annual

Hey Frankie. I know this is unexpected, but we need to talk for a minute. You’ve told me a million times that you don’t care about my fantasy team, but I’m not crazy about the changes in your batted-ball profile. In a fantasy landscape bereft of .300 hitters possessing both power and speed, you’ve been an oasis of fantasy goodness. We’ve had some great times. The home runs are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but there are other shortstops who hit for power. Yes, I’m talking about Carlos Correa. Let’s cut to the chase: your batting average is killing me. Plus, I really like Chris Taylor.

Perhaps no player has undergone a more dramatic transformation this season than Francisco Lindor. Whether intentional or not, the 23-year-old has experienced one of the largest increases in fly-ball rate of any hitter from a year ago. He’s hitting for more power, but it’s come at the expense of his formerly elite batting average, which has the potential to torpedo his fantasy value. Life comes at you fast.

Last month, FanGraphs author Jeff Sullivan concluded a piece regarding Lindor’s ongoing offensive metamorphosis by saying,

“I don’t think that Francisco Lindor is blossoming into a power hitter. To me, that connotes a certain profile, with more whiffs and more jaw-dropping dingers. I think that Lindor is blossoming into a better hitter, a hitter with more power than he used to have. He’s on the Mookie Betts path, making the absolute most of what he is, given his own limitations. I don’t think it would be fair to suggest that Lindor’s becoming another Mike Trout. Rather, he could settle for being the next-best thing.”

At the time Sullivan wrote that piece (May 2), it wasn’t a crazy statement at all. It was justified. Especially considering that Lindor had slugged seven home runs in the first 25 games of the season. Since that post, Cleveland’s franchise cornerstone has hit .232/.292/.419 with six home runs and a pair of steals in 171 plate appearances. Those numbers do not include an 0-for-5 performance Sunday against a dreadful Minnesota pitching staff. Granted, these are arbitrary endpoints, but they illustrate how Lindor’s transition to an emphasis on air balls has caused his on-base skills to crater.

Francisco Lindor offensive comparison (2015-2017)

Year

PA

HR

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

BABIP

2015

438

12

.313

.353

.482

.286

.348

2016

684

15

.301

.358

.435

.270

.324

2017

289

13

.256

.319

.488

.260

.254

If you obtained a transcript of my recent text messages to other BP fantasy staffers (especially fellow Lindor enthusiast Mark Barry), a disturbing number of the messaged would highlight one specific element of Lindor’s recent performance, a growing propensity to pop up. Once again, the numbers don’t lie. Per FanGraphs batted-ball data, Lindor has hit nearly as many infield pop flies (five in just 284 PA) this season as he did in the previous two years (18 in 1,122 PA) combined. It’s staggering. The changes in his batted-ball profile paint a pretty good picture of his transformation.

Francisco Lindor batted-ball comparison (2015-2017)

Year

PA

GB%

LD%

FB%

2015-16

1,122

50%

22%

29%

2017

284

37%

19%

44%

Differential

-13%

-3%

+15%

The precipitous BABIP decline indicates that unless he gets back to the line-drive and ground-ball approach that defined his first seasons, he’s extremely unlikely to challenge for a .300 average again. Now, is it fair to complain about Lindor’s performance? Don’t we have bigger fish to fry? Sure, from a dynasty standpoint, there’s no reason to be alarmed. However, it’s worth noting that Lindor graded out as merely the seventh-ranked AL-only shortstop in my colleague Mike Gianella’s latest in-season fantasy valuations (updated through games of June 10). For the sake of comparison, Lindor checks in as the 11th-best mixed league shortstop on the ESPN player rater.

It’s possible Lindor truly is evolving into a vastly superior hitter overall (as Sullivan and others have suggested), and this recent sample of lackluster performance will be merely a blip on the radar when we reflect on his 2017 campaign. Without forecasting the long-term implications on his fantasy value, it’s clear that Lindor’s shift away from elite contributions in batting average and stolen bases lower his realistic floor for the immediate future. If it all comes together for him at the plate, Lindor’s offensive upside could potentially rival that of the other elites in the game, but there’s no debate that he’s enduring an extremely rough adjustment period right now.

Like a fidget spinner, there’s a lot going on with Lindor’s batted-ball profile, and it remains unclear if he’s making progress as a hitter, or potentially devolving into a less-valuable fantasy commodity long-term. Regardless of whether the balls are juiced or not, the league-wide proliferation of home runs has diminished the fantasy value of an individual home run. There might not be any SLG on the ground, but it’s likely that Lindor’s only path back to elite fantasy status is there. Sometimes hitting for more power is a bad thing.

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jfranco77
6/19
What's weird is that this isn't the kind of change I'd expect from someone who hit 3rd last year and is hitting 2nd this year. His walk rate is pretty similar so even with a .320 OBP he should have *some* chances to run. Maybe .270-25hr-15sb wouldn't be quite as good as .300-15-25, but at least if he'd run a little it wouldn't hurt so much.
ironcityguys
6/19
Maybe we're a tad early with the "decline" of Francisco Lindor?
GeorgeBissell
6/20
His fantasy value is in decline. It's not too early to have that conversation.
markpadden
6/20
You're reading way too much into 300 PA of crazy-low BABIP. According to xStats.org, his xAVG is actually .296. I.e., his batted ball profile is still that of an elite batting average hitter. So, basically, he's getting better, not worse.
GeorgeBissell
6/20
I would argue that Lindor is running a "crazy-low" BABIP (.216 since May 1) because he's hitting a ton of pop ups and fly balls that are pretty much automatic outs. You're not wrong, BABIP will regress toward his career baseline over time. But... I don't think you read the piece closely enough because I clearly stated that Lindor can make it work with this batted ball profile. It just isn't working right now. It's entirely within the range of potential outcomes that he can hit for more over the fence power with a palatable batting average. It's hard to envision him being an "elite batting average" hitter if he's going to keep hitting this many balls in the air, but he's 23-years-old. It could happen. The vast majority of his fantasy value in recent years has centered around a .300-plus batting average and 15-20 stolen bases. It was an extremely valuable skill set fantasy-wise. If those contributions aren't coming back, he's a less valuable fantasy option, which was my central argument.
markpadden
6/21
No, I read it. Your panic is completely unwarranted. As I said, Lindor's batted profile this year (incl. all his flyballs and popups) would result in close to a .300 BA, if he had had normal luck. By by all means, continue to publish "the sky is falling" articles. It will just lower his price for the rest of us.
GeorgeBissell
6/22
You can disagree with my analysis, but don't misrepresent my argument.
markpadden
6/23
Perhaps you didn't read your own article? To remind you of your claim: "The precipitous BABIP decline indicates that unless he gets back to the line-drive and ground-ball approach that defined his first seasons, he’s extremely unlikely to challenge for a .300 average again." This is false. A guy with his exit velocity and angle profile is much more likely to hit .300 than .250 going forward.
GeorgeBissell
6/23
I disagree with you. That's all.
huztlers
6/20
Lindor's success this season mostly happened over a few fluky weeks early on in the season. He has been quite bad with the bat outside of a few weeks. The frustrating thing is that he clearly has brought this on himself. He traded elite batting average for moderate power. Lindor needs to revert back to what he is good at. Hopefully he will fail enough to make that decision. He is definitely worse at hitting today than he was last year. I have watched his at bats as opposed to cherry picking through stats. Watch him, it is not real prett - lots of bad swings at hittable pitches.