Fantasy Baseball: Is Francisco Lindor Worth His Lofty Price Tag on Draft Day?

The young shortstop has been a revelation at the dish during his short time in the majors. Can Lindor make good on his current projection of being a third-round pick?

When Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor broke into the majors in 2015, his calling card was his terrific defense. And indeed, his work in the field put him firmly in the discussion for 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, along with some surprisingly robust production at the plate.

With his first full season in Cleveland now in the books, Lindor’s chops at the dish no longer seem like a fluke. The young infielder was a surprising fantasy force in 2016, hitting a cool .301 over 684 plate appearances while stroking 16 homers, swiping 19 bags, scoring 99 runs and driving in 76.

No longer a mere defensive specialist, Lindor now seems to be a marquee early-round fantasy asset, going off the board around the 30th overall pick according to NFBC and slotting at the 29th overall player in the FantasyPros expert consensus.

But what do the underlying numbers tell us about Lindor’s chances of repeating his early success at the dish? Is the third-year shortstop really worth the relatively hefty investment?

Steady Eddie

Much of what makes Lindor such an intriguing fantasy commodity is his consistent, low variance skill set. This is the result of a mature plate approach that dates back through his minor league career.

Just look at how little little variance there is in the walk percentage (BB%), strikeout percentage (K%), on-base percentage (OBP), and isolated slugging (ISO) from his four extended stints in the minors.

Year (Level) PA BB% K% ISO OBP
2012 (A) 567 10.8 13.8 .098 .352
2013 (A+) 373 9.4 10.5 .104 .373
2014 (AA) 387 10.3 15.8 .111 .352
2015 (AAA) 262 9.5 14.5 .118 .350

The major league sample for Lindor is a bit smaller, but all indicators point to the young infielder carrying this consistency over. Indeed, most of the underlying numbers for his first season and a half in the majors -- including both the marks discussed above and his ground ball/fly ball ratio (GB/FB) -- show either marked consistency or incremental improvement.

2015 438 1.77 6.2 % 15.8 % .353 .169
2016 684 1.74 8.3 % 12.9 % .358 .134

During his first full season with the Indians, Lindor traded some strikeouts for walks while maintaining a remarkably consistent GB/FB ration and on-base percentage. Only the dip in ISO was precipitous, but this came with an expected home-run-to-fly-ball (HR/FB) regression, from 13 percent in 2015 to 9.9 percent in 2016. These corrections make plenty of sense given the power profile Lindor showed in the minors.

Prepare For Contact

Much of Lindor’s consistency can be attributed to his terrific plate skills, particularly impressive given his age and limited major league experience. His swing rates in (Z-Swing%) and out (O-Swing%) of the strike zone demonstrate an innately selective approach that is growing all the more refined as he adjusts to big league pitching.

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact%
Lindor in 2015 31.8 % 73.7 % 69.6 % 90.3 %
2015 League Average 30.6 % 66.9 % 64.9 % 86.7 %
Lindor in 2016 30.3 % 69.7 % 71.4 % 90.6 %
2016 League Average 30.3 % 66.7 % 63.9 % 86.3 %

What is especially impressive here is the above average zone swing rate, which shows that Lindor’s pitch recognition is not limited to laying off of bad pitches. Marginal growth in his already above-average contact rates on strikes (Z-Contact %) and non-strikes (O-Contact%) confirms his shrewd batting eye isn’t merely a matter of taking more walks -- he can recognize hittable pitches and let it rip.

And while no one would call Lindor a slugger in waiting, the young infielder has made some gains in quality of contact over his first two major league seasons.

Lindor cut his infield fly-ball rate by more than half, from 10.9 percent in 2015 to 5.3 percent in 2016. He also saw notable gains in pull percentage (up to 39.1 percent from 34.5), line-drive percentage (up to 22.4 percent from 20.6) and hard-contact rate (up to 27.5 percent from 25.5), while medium contact over his first two seasons remains dead solid -- 55.1 percent in 2015 and 55.2 percent in 2016. Talk about consistency!

Value In Context

Overall, there’s no reason to believe Lindor’s steady plate production has been any sort of fluke, and he should continue producing for fantasy owners in 2017.

Of course, this is the first year owners in redraft leagues will have to pay up for that production. Lindor currently slots (per the FantasyPros expert consensus) as an early third-round pick in a cluster of fantasy stalwarts: Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Brian Dozier, Freddie Freeman, and Nelson Cruz.

Let’s line up their respective Steamer projections to get an idea of how Lindor’s value shapes up in context.

Steamer Projection Avg Rank PA HR R + RBI SB Avg
Fransisco Lindor 29 648 15 158 16 .290
Robinson Cano 29 638 24 168 3 .289
Edwin Encarnacion 29.1 582 30 170 2 .254
Brian Dozier 30 645 26 167 12 .248
Freddie Freeman 30 637 26 170 4 .275
Nelson Cruz 30.4 599 33 175 2 .264

Lindor certainly looks like the low man in terms of homers, RBI, and runs scored. In fact, Steamer’s 15-homer projection for Lindor seems a little optimistic, considering his relative power surge thus far in the majors has well outpaced his production in the minors.

Still, one could argue that Steamer is overly conservative on Lindor’s runs scored ceiling, and Steamer’s .290 batting average also seems to settle on the lower end of his range of possible outcomes given his plus batting profile.

So, considering some potential for growth that might not be reflected in Steamer, it’s not hard to see why experts have Lindor valued among this group, despite his lack of one single difference-making category contribution outside of his potential for strong steals contributions and high-end batting average.

And while there is indeed serious homer and RBI upside in this cluster he can’t realistically match, what Lindor represents instead is solid, low-variance across-the-board production. The shortstop is by no means the splashy pick, but he’s arguably the pick with the least downside.

After all, many of the players in this range are either two or three seasons removed from peak production (Cruz, Cano, Encarnacion) or are valued based on a recent stretch of exceptional production (Dozier, Freeman).

Lindor is an interesting player in this respect -- he’s a young player who feels fairly safe and battle-tested, with a more narrow range of outcomes than most players his age.

In short, rolling with Lindor in the third round seems profoundly safe and a solid investment. The infielder won't singlehandedly win any fantasy titles this year, but he almost certainly won't lose any, either.