Lindor Leapt into National Spotlight with Strong Sophomore Season
Bob Toth | On 29, Dec 2016
Once in a while, a dynamic rookie struggles in his second season while opposing teams make adjustments to him. The dreaded “sophomore slump” has afflicted many of fine players over the years, and there was some speculation that the impressive numbers put up by shortstop Francisco Lindor in his first campaign at the Major League level would not be replicated over the course of his first full season of baseball in 2016.
Lindor did his part to eliminate any of those doubts early and often in putting together what was a dynamite season as the Cleveland Indians’ number three hitter and American League All-Star shortstop.
Throughout Lindor’s minor league career, he was regularly regarded as special. There was just something about the way that he played the game that set him apart from the other players on the field with him. There seemed to be little doubt that he had Major League potential, but how high his ceiling might ultimately be was yet to be decided.
If the numbers that he has put up offensively and defensively are any indication, the sky is the limit for the young star Lindor.
The switch-hitter was the eighth overall pick by the Indians in the 2011 draft and progressed steadily through the club’s farm system while being routinely rated one of the top prospects in all of baseball. His bat took some time to develop (.257 average in 2012 in 122 games with Class-A Lake County), but he showed extra base power at the dish and flashed quality speed on the bases.
He split the 2013 season between High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron, hitting a combined .303 on the season, and received similar treatment the following year when he worked at Akron and Triple-A Columbus. After a trip to the Arizona Fall League after the season, he returned to Columbus for 2015 and made his MLB debut with the Indians on June 14 after slashing .284/.350/.402 in 59 games for the Clippers.
In 99 games with Cleveland, he hit .313 with a .353 on-base percentage and .482 slugging mark with 22 doubles, four triples, a dozen homers, and 51 RBI while scoring 50 runs and stealing 12 bases in 14 opportunities. He also was tops in the AL with 13 sacrifice bunts.
Lindor surprised some who wondered how his bat would translate to the MLB game after putting up a career .279/.354/.384 slash line in the minors. Furthermore, he showcased a surprising amount of pop at the MLB level, especially for a player who had hit only eleven in a single professional season. With the way that Lindor played, it was at times difficult to remember that he was in just his fifth season of pro ball and that he was a fresh faced 21-year-old.
With the bar set high on the former top prospect, Lindor went out and lived up to every expectation in 2016.
He was inserted into the third spot in manager Terry Francona’s batting order with Michael Brantley on the shelf dealing with on-going shoulder and biceps related issues all season long. The spot generally reserved for a team’s best hitter was not a role too big for Lindor, as he would hit .302 while getting all but 13 of his plate appearances in the spot.
He jumped out of the gates hot, hitting .293 in 21 games with 24 hits (four doubles, one homer) and a dozen runs scored in April. The one critique that could have been made was an elevated strikeout rate, with 18 in 93 plate appearances (19.4%). He improved upon his numbers the next month as he hit .316, had 36 hits (five doubles, three homers) in 28 games, scored 21 runs, drove in 13, and was a perfect 6-for-6 stealing bases. He also cut his strikeout rate in half, down to just 9.5% of his plate appearances for the month.
The extra base power boomed in June, as in 28 games he had six doubles, six homers, and a triple while he hit .301 with a .353 OBP. He drove in a season-high 17 runs in the month as he maintained his steady production in the batting order. He rounded out the first half with a slash of .306/.363/.460 with 20 doubles, a triple, ten homers, 45 RBI, 60 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, 103 hits, and a trip to the Midsummer Classic in San Diego, California.
He wrapped up July with a .304 average for the month in 24 games with 28 more hits, including five more doubles and a pair of homers. He also impressively hit six sacrifice flies for the month, more than doubling his previous season total of five through the first three months of the campaign.
The final two months of the regular season were distinctly different for Lindor as he continued to play every day in the lineup. He took the field 30 times in August, hitting a season-high .341 with 42 hits while walking a season-low two times as he pounced on everything that he could hit and did it well. He was a singles machine, hitting 34 for the month while adding four doubles, two more triples, and two home runs while driving in 13 runs, the third of four separate times he would do so over the course of the year.
Down the stretch, the bat quieted as he racked up exactly half as many hits in his final 27 games as he had in the previous month while hitting a season-low .233. Yet despite the lack of hits, he drew 19 walks against his 13 strikeouts and therefore continued to set the table for the middle of the Indians lineup any way that he could. He also added four more sacrifice flies to give him a total of 15 for the season, tops in all the Majors and all the more impressive coming from a scrappy shortstop and not the prototypical cleanup hitting slugger.
After playing a professional career-high 158 games, Lindor’s season continued on through the playoffs. And just like the regular season, he was a linchpin in the Tribe offense. He had a double and a solo homer in the ALDS against Boston before hitting .368 in the five-game ALCS with Toronto, adding another double and homer, two runs scored, and three RBI. He hit a healthy .296 against Chicago in the World Series, hitting seven singles and a double, scoring two runs, and driving in two more.
During the regular season, Lindor had a .301/.358/.435 triple slash with 182 hits (30 doubles, three triples, 15 homers) and 78 RBI and was fifth in the league in singles with 134. He hit .310 with a .355 OBP and .466 slugging in the playoffs.
Defensively, he was one of the top rated shortstops and defenders in general in the game and was awarded both the Gold Glove Award at shortstop in the AL and the Platinum Glove as the league’s top defensive player, the first Indians player to do so. He had league-bests among all defenders with an 18.5 SABR Defensive Index and a 27.8 defensive runs above average and a positional league-best with a 20.8 UZR. His 17 defensive runs saved were second to Andrelton Simmons in the AL.
There was little slump in the sophomore season that was for Francisco Lindor as he made his star shine brightly in Cleveland. His name has become one to know across the country with his infectious smile, his hustle, his energy, his defensive prowess, a potent and underrated approach at the plate, and a genuine love for the game of baseball. At just 23 years of age, he has quickly become not only the face of the Indians franchise, but one of the most important faces for Major League Baseball’s next generation.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images