For all of the talk of the increase in power in 2017, the number of 20-homer hitters among shortstops decreased from 13 to 10. Yet a few players at the position did have dramatic power surges, and none was more notable than Francisco Lindor’s. He led all shortstops with 33 home runs, besting Didi Gregorius and Paul DeJong by eight (though DeJong and Carlos Correa could have made it a contest if they had approached Lindor’s 723 plate appearances). Not only did he more than double his prior season’s total of 15 home runs, but Lindor increased his doubles from 30 to 44 and his Iso from .134 to .232.
There is not much mystery as to the source of Lindor’s newfound power. While his average exit velocity ticked slightly downward from 88.5 to 88.1 mph (per Baseball Savant), his average launch angle soared from 7.7 to 13.7 degrees. More airborne balls meant that Lindor was hitting for greater distance, but he also made more frequent outs on balls in play. After batting .313 and .301 in 2015 an 2016, respectively, his overall batting average dropped to .273, even though he struck out at the lowest rate of his career. His career BABIP trend reads as follows: .348, .324, 275.
On the surface, it looks like Lindor made a fairly even tradeoff of batting average for power. As Travis Sawchik pointed out in his analysis of Lindor’s changing profile back in September, his overall value in terms of wRC+ was not much different than that from his first two seasons. Lindor’s Roto value didn’t budge much either. In 2016, he was good for 8.35 SGPs (per ESPN’s Player Rater), with 2.36 coming from Avg and 0.56 derived from home runs. Last season, he finished with 8.12 SGPs. Avg accounted for just 0.87 of those, while he gave owners 2.11 SGPs from homers.
In CBS points leagues, the surge in extra-base power did enhance Lindor’s value. After finishing fifth among shortstops with 491.0 points in 2016, he led the position with 561.5 points in 2017.
Yet part of Lindor’s batted ball profile suggests he should have experienced a net gain in all fantasy formats. According to Andrew Perpetua’s xStats data, Lindor put 18 more flyballs in play in ’17 than in ’16 (excluding popups), while hitting 11 fewer grounders (excluding those with a negative launch angle). Differences of these magnitudes would not likely account for a swing in batting average of more than a few points, and that would be easily offset by an increase in xHR from flyballs of 10.5.
Of course, grounders with negative launch angle and popups matter, too. Neither generate much value, so a high quantity of either can be a real drag on production. Of Lindor’s batted balls in 2017, 14.2 percent were popups — more than double his 2016 rate of 7.0 percent. He did hit grounders with negative launch angles at a lower rate, but the decrease from 17.4 to 14.2 percent was relatively modest by comparison. The swell in Lindor’s popup rate could have been offset by more line drives, but that rate actually slipped from 14.3 to 12.2 percent.
So Lindor’s increase in flyballs included a disproportionate hike in his popup rate, and it would appear that this trend shoulders most of the blame for a 28-point drop in batting average. Yet an even closer look suggests that Lindor does not have to cut back on popups to reclaim half of those lost batting average points. In 2016, Lindor batted .229 on grounders with a negative launch angle, which was right in line with his .235 xAvg on those batted balls. This past season, his batting average on that category of batted ball fell to .153, as compared to an xAvg of .215. In other words, his downward-launched grounders (or dribble balls, as they are called on the xStats site) should have been hits less often in 2017 than in 2016, but not nearly to the degree that they actually were. Lindor had 18 fewer hits in this category, but according to xAvg, he should have been only nine hits shy of his 2016 total.
If you give Lindor those nine hits back, he would have had a .287 batting average in 2017, which is just 14 points below his 2016 mark. Nothing looked amiss in Lindor’s batting averages on other types of batted balls. Therefore, the bulk of the drop in his overall batting average can be traced to two things: more popups and apparent bad luck on dribble balls.
We can’t expect that Lindor will be precisely the same type of player in 2018 that he was in 2017, but at least we don’t have to assume that another 30-plus homer season means that he won’t be a notable contributor to the batting average category. Since we can reasonably expect Lindor to mash 30 home runs and hit close to .290, he could close the gap on Correa and Trea Turner at the top of the shortstop rankings, while putting some distance between himself and Corey Seager.