CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Francisco Lindor is not a power hitter. He will tell you as much.
That being said, and he has said it often, the shortstop is already three home runs off his career high (15) in 101 fewer games heading into Saturday night.
The 23-year old and his manager contend that the jump in power numbers are a matter of more solid contact, and that has been the case. Through 57 contests, Lindor has a career high 33.8% hard-hit rate compared to 27.5% a year ago, and a drastic decrease in soft-hit rate at 11.8%, down from 17.2% in his first full season in 2016.
The reason for Lindor contesting that he is not a power hitter so often is because of the negative connotations of the label: high strikeout rates, low batting averages, and unbalanced approaches at the plate.
By those standards, Lindor is actually becoming a power-hitter, relative to his past. His strikeout rate is up from 12.9% in 2016 to 14.2%, which is not alarming, nor is his career-low .262 batting average and .325 on-base percentage.
It is the latter of the three that may be becoming an issue for one of the best hitters in baseball, as his pull-rate has jumped even further from 39.1% to 42.1%. As Lindor enters the weekend 6-for-38 (.158) in his last 10 games, the pull numbers have caught his eye.
During the team’s road trip in Colorado, Indians third base coach Mike Sarbaugh reviewed defensive alignments against each hitter, which revealed an eye-opening issue to Lindor.
“Frankie was like, ‘Can you show me mine?’ And he did, and it was very pull oriented,” Manager Terry Francona said. “Then, he showed him last year’s, where he was using the whole field. And I think Frankie was like, ‘Whoa, I’ve got to get back to [that].’”
As often happens with blossoming hitters, Lindor has seen less fastballs this season at just 52.8% of pitches compared to 57% in his first two seasons. His success against fastballs has dropped, and there has been a residual effect against breaking pitches according to Francona.
“You see him be on fastballs, but then they’ve thrown some breaking balls in the dirt that he’s really out in front of,” the manager said. “And, when you’re trying to use the whole field, you have a much better chance of hitting all the pitches.”
The skipper harkened the change back to Lindor’s promotion to Triple-A Columbus in late 2014, when the shortstop hit six home runs early. The power jump was accompanied by a 20% strikeout rate, the highest of any stop for Lindor outside of five games in Low-A after being drafted.
Lindor also saw a rise in his pull-percentage to 48.5% in his first tour with the Clippers, the highest since his first full season at Single-A Lynchburg.
“I think the biggest thing is just reminding yourself,” Francona said. “It’s just you hit one and it’s like you feel good, and you start to go after pitches that need to be hit the other direction, and you still feel good enough where it’s like, ‘I can get that in the air,’ and you get yourself in bad habits. And that’s kind of what happened. So, I think just the idea of being cognizant of it, and he’s such a good hitter that, you watch, it’ll work.”
Following his 36 strikeouts in 38 games at Columbus, Lindor returned in 2015 to strikeout just 38 times in 59 games before being promoted to the bigs for good.
His pull rate fell in that campaign from the 48.5% the year prior to 41.9%, a number which he had never eclipsed again until now.