Curb Your Regression Enthusiasm: Francisco Lindor
Death, taxes, and regression. They come for us all, eventually. The problem, however, is that sometimes we can rely too much on the big “R” word when faced with unexpected productivity, and we brush aside underlying factors necessary to understand what happened and what the future may hold. This certainly seems to be the case with Francisco Lindor as he enters his second year in the big leagues. Typically in dynasty leagues, a shortstop coming off of a 12-homer, 12-steal campaign at 21-years-old, is seen as a legitimate building block type player. While he might be, there doesn’t seem to be much optimism that Lindor can repeat his stellar rookie numbers, much less improve upon them. Many are even predicting a significant drop off in several offensive categories because of, yep you guessed it, regression.
While that certainly might be the case, regression could pump the brakes on another breakout season, there are quite a few areas in Lindor’s offensive profile that indicate improvement moving forward. If that’s the case, and 2015 was a baseline for Lindor rather than an outlier, he could be not only a Gold Glove shortstop moving forward, but also a fantasy stud, a top-30 dynasty asset moving forward.
Lindor spent the last handful of years atop most prospect lists after the Indians drafted him in the first round of the 2011 draft. The “knock” on him was that he would be a much better in real life than fantasy prospect, mostly due to his exceptional glove at shortstop and solid, if not gaudy offensive numbers. Since fantasy implications are the only things we care about, our expectations for Lindor’s offensive potential were tempered from the start. Lindor debuted in mid-June of 2015, after he had either the proper minor league seasoning or had his service time sufficiently depressed, whichever you’d prefer. Upon his call up, Lindor bucked offensive expectations, almost immediately, and had everyone legitimately debating on whether he should edge out the almighty Carlos Correa for AL Rookie of the Year. If you believe the defensive metrics, which you should, the answer is yes.
Lindor’s final offensive slash line (.313/.353/.482) was impressive. He also added 12 homers and 12 stolen bases for good measure. While these numbers are impressive for any player, let alone a 21-year-old rookie, there are some indicators that could lead to questions about sustainability. First of all, Lindor’s 12 homers were more than he hit in any previous season, eclipsing his previous high of 11 in 2014 across two levels. Lindor’s .169 ISO was the highest of his career, at any level, and dwarfed his Triple A output (.118 ISO in 442 plate appearances).
According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, four of Lindor’s 12 homeruns were classified as “just enough” (per ESPN: “the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence”). Look, a homerun is a homerun is a homerun, but there is cause to believe that Lindor’s power spike was aided by a bit of good fortune.
On the other hand, Lindor did hit 12 homers in 2015. That means he’s capable of hitting at least 12 homers moving forward. That may be over simplified analysis, but it makes sense that once a player has shown a skill, it then becomes part of the arsenal. That power is banked. I mean, we’re not talking about 1996 Brady Anderson hitting 50 home runs here.
Another important piece of Lindor’s offensive profile has always been his plate discipline, an aspect of his game that kept him entrenched on top prospect lists. In 2015, he walked only 6.2 percent of the time, a number Brandon Phillips might look at in awe, but for the rest of the league, that’s pretty bad. The good news, however, is that Lindor has always had a penchant for starting slow in the walks department at each level before rebounding to a near 10 percent walk rate with exposure. In fact, it already started to happen in 2015. Early after Lindor’s callup, pitchers challenged him in the zone, and he was aggressive. His 69.4 percent zone swing percentage is almost five percent above league average. Later in the season, Lindor saw fewer pitches in the zone, and in turn, walked more, posting a .389 OBP after August 1 (yes, arbitrary endpoints, but still).
The increased walk rate should also help Lindor’s numbers on the basepaths. In 2015, he swiped 12 bases in 14 attempts. Stolen bases have always been a prominent part of his game, as he totaled 25 and 30 stolen bases in 2014 and 2015 respectively. As Lindor adapts to major league pitching and increases his opportunities to get on base, a rise in stolen base numbers should follow. Even if his power takes a step back, the increase in thefts should mitigate that (from a valuation standpoint) to a large degree, given the overall decline in speed league-wide.
Sure, Lindor could see some fallback in batting average. His .313 average in 2015 was a career best, and probably a little propped up by a .348 BABIP. However, between his speed and ability to put the ball in play (15.8 percent strikeout rate in his first taste of the big leagues), Lindor has always carried a higher than league average BABIP.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, Lindor is a shortstop. No kidding, right? What I mean, is that Lindor is a no doubt, elite defensive shortstop that will stay at shortstop probably for the duration of his career. Correa is awesome. So are Seager and Bogaerts. However there have always been rumblings that they’ll have to be moved off shortstop as they age, especially Seager. That’s never going to be a concern with Lindor.
It seems like we’re entering another golden age of young shortstops, although this one will probably not come with them posing together shirtless in front of a white background (Seriously! In 1997 this happened! A-Rod, Jeter, Renteria, Rey Ordonez, and Alex Gonzalez! They did this!). While Lindor might not carry the flashiest stats compared to his counterparts, he’s really good and will stay on the position long term. In dynasty, that’s super valuable. It might be time for a bit of misdirection. While leaguemates are enamored with Correa and Co. (and rightfully so, they’re good), you can “settle” for Lindor and be set at shortstop for the next decade.