This story was originally published on October 7th, 2015.
If Francisco Lindor does not win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, don’t blame him. He did everything he could in the time he had.
The competition has been highly contested and razor thin between the Astros’ Carlos Correa and Lindor for most of the second half of the season. The final vote, already made but not announced until the conclusion of the post-season, will likely be just as tight between the two. It could be the first of many friendly rivalries among the two budding shortstops.
Despite both being Top 5 prospects in all of Major League Baseball, both Correa and Lindor began the season in the minor leagues. The Indians were passionate and staunch in their belief that Lindor needed further seasoning. In March, Indians Team President Mark Shapiro said Lindor needed to continue to physically and mentally develop and, in late April, Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti said Lindor had a litany of things to improve upon before being promoted.
Lindor, the Indians top prospect since he was selected as eighth pick of the 2011 First Year Player Draft, made his debut on June 14th in Detroit. After making a late arrival prior to the game, Lindor did not start, but pinch hit and laced a would-be-double down the right field line in the top of the ninth inning. Running as hard as he could, Lindor stumbled around first base and was forced to be held to a single – logging a memorable first Major League hit. It was the first time, but not the last, he would stand out, hustle, or smile during the 2015 season.
After an 8-1 loss in Detroit that afternoon, the Indians had a 29-33 record and were stuck in fourth place in the American League Central Division. Lindor made his first big league start the next day in Chicago against the Cubs. It’s one of many turning points in the Indians’ season that started slow and gained momentum. Lindor moved into the second spot in the batting order, hitting primarily between Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. He hit .313 for the season, with 12 home runs, 51 runs batted in, 50 runs scored and 22 doubles in 99 games. Offensively, he provided a much needed spark to a stagnant Indians’ offense searching for ways to score runs.
For many, Lindor’s offensive production was a surprise to his game. However, Lindor has produced better offensively each year as a professional. His .257 at Low-A Lake County in 2012 remains his worst offensive season. Hitting between Kipnis and Brantley may have been a large responsibility for Lindor, but he proved worthy to the challenge and created a quality 1-2-3 at the top of the Tribe’s lineup. It’s a top third the Indians should be able to build around as they try to improve their offense moving forward.
Correa made his debut a week earlier on June 8th, also making his first start in Chicago. Correa laced a single of his own that evening on the South Side, launching his own offensive campaign. Correa, the top rated prospect according to MLB.com entering the season, hit .279, with 22 home runs, 68 runs batted in, 52 runs scored and 22 doubles in 99 games. Correa, known for his offense, may have exceeded Lindor in production, but just slightly over the same amount of games played this year.
Lindor, meanwhile, makes quite the case to win the award based upon his defense. It’s been over a decade since the Indians have seen quality, defensive shortstop play. Before Lindor was promoted, the Indians had one of the worst defenses in Major League Baseball. By the end of the season, with Lindor at a premium defensive position, the Indians were second in the American League behind the Kansas City Royals and third overall. Lindor wasn’t just quality – he was the best in the American League. In his 865.1 innings played, Lindor had an overall defensive rating of 15.0 and had 10 Defensive Runs Saved. His 10.5 UZR means not just did Lindor field his position, but he fielded it well, while covering a lot of range.
All three of Lindor’s defensive metrics are the best in the American League among shortstops. If Lindor were eligible for the American League Gold Glove, he’d certainly win. However, according to MLB.com’s August Fagerstrom, a fielder needs to have played 70 of his team’s first 128 games. Lindor, at 66, falls four games short.
Correa had a defensive rating of -1.6, 0 Defensive Runs Saved and -6.0 UZR. Among shortstops that played over 800 innings, he ranked 11th of 12 shortstops. In simple terms, he’s one of the worst shortstops in the league defensively and covers below average ground.
Correa and Lindor are certainly different players, one thriving on defense and the other on offense, so an examination of their WAR is very appropriate. WAR does its best to evaluate and quantify each player’s value to their team on an equal basis versus a league average player. Lindor has a 4.6 WAR, first among all American League shortstops, while Correa has a 3.3 WAR. Only Xander Bogaerts separate the two, but the margin is quite wide. Lindor was 12th overall in WAR in the American League, Correa was a respectable but distant 34th.
But possibly, the biggest difference between Correa and Lindor can be seen in the standings. Each play on teams trying to make the leap to a playoff participant and championship contender. The Tribe went 52-47 in their final 99 games with Lindor as their primary starting shortstop. The Astros went 52-51 after Correa’s promotion. Houston was actually 34-25 and the best team in the American League when Correa was promoted, and while no one would blame the Astros’ second half slide on Correa, he didn’t improve his team like Lindor did.
Lindor made his team better, while Correa may have just helped keep the Astros pointed in the right direction. Neither made their debut until their Super Two Arbitration status likely passed, and their service time will lead them to another year of team control, although it seems unlikely the Indians will want to be going year-to-year contractually when that extra year comes around in 2021. Instead, it seems reasonable that the Indians should act quickly and try to obtain a long term contract with their new face of the franchise and cornerstone.
The Indians actually played at a .525 winning percentage once Lindor was on the roster, just short of the .530 Houston posted for the season to get themselves into the playoffs. If Correa wins the Rookie of the Year Award, it will be in part because his team made the playoffs while Lindor’s team did not. In 2015, regardless of whether he wins the Rookie of the Year Award, Lindor was the Indians’ biggest addition to the roster, best defender and most valuable player. Had Lindor opened the season with the Indians, he likely would have a litany of hardware for his season. An additional two and a half months at the big league level could have been the difference for the Tribe making the playoffs.
Instead, the Indians and Lindor may be left to wonder what could have been and instead look to next season’s possibilities.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images