How Sustainable Is Francisco Lindor's Current Production?
Francisco Lindor has been straight fire for the Cleveland Indians since the 2017 MLB regular season started three weeks ago. The shortstop is hitting .328/.400/.639 with a .429 wOBA and 186 wRC+ through 71 plate appearances, and is one of just 12 batters to have already posted 1.0 fWAR.
The Indians got off to a slow start at the plate as a team, but Lindor has been carrying them through their struggles -- he ranks in the top 30 in every major statistical offensive category. If not for Mike Trout's super-human ability, Lindor would be the early leader for the American League MVP award.
Lindor brought a glove-first reputation upon debuting in 2015. Nobody expected him to hit for average, much less power, but in 438 plate appearances, he hit .313/.353/.482 with a .358 wOBA and 126 wRC+, posting 4.5 fWAR.
He followed that up with a 6.3-fWAR campaign as the Indians reached, and almost won, the World Series. He was impressive through 684 plate appearances, slashing .301/.358/.435 with a .340 wOBA and a 112 wRC+, and he's somehow gotten even better.
Where the Improvements Have Happened
All three areas of Lindor's triple slash have increased this year, but his batting average of balls in play (BABIP) has stayed right around his career average of .333 (.348 in '15, .324 in '16 and currently .333).
It's still early, but the young shortstop has seen his walk rate rise to 11.3%, which is three percentage points higher than his 2016 number (8.3%). His strikeouts have also increased (12.9% to 14.2%), but that's quite alright given his overall production.
This has been fueled by him just swinging less frequently this year (47.3% in '16 to 46.2% in '17) -- especially at pitches outside the strike zone (30.3% to 25.7%). He's combined that with making more contact, as that's raised from 83.6% to 87.7%.
This has all led to a massive spike in power, which is evidenced by his Isolated Power (ISO) of .311 and a .639 slugging percentage.
How Sustainable Is This?
Without an unusual spike in BABIP, it's hard to expect too much regression back toward the mean. After all, he the current owner of a 43.4% hard-hit rate and an average exit velocity of 91.1 mph. There will indeed be regression -- especially when looking at Lindor's career 27.7% hard-hit rate -- but it won't regress to the point where he still isn't a terrific hitter.
His fly-ball rate is currently 51.9% and his line-drive rate is just 17.3%, so those should correct themselves to a degree, but they could be changing because of a shift in approach.
Not only has Lindor's exit velocity seen a significant increase, but so has his launch angle, which MLB Statcast defines as the "vertical angle at which the ball leaves a player's bat after being struck."
If we compare his 2016 and 2017 launch angles (via Baseball Savant), Lindor's swing clearly has more of an upper-cut to it. That's paid off in the form of more fly balls, resulting in more power. We're working with a small sample size, but if he can keep his hard-hit rate higher than it's been in the past, there's little to suggest that significant regression is in store, even in the power department.
Lindor's put together one of the best starts in Indians history, and it doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime soon. ZiPS projects Lindor to hit .300/.359/.466 with a .353 wOBA, 121 wRC+ and 5.2 fWAR over the rest of the season, which would put Lindor at 6.3 fWAR, the same number he posted last season.
If he can keep up his power surge with his higher launch angle and increased exit velocity, the shortstop could easily exceed those projections. A 7.0-WAR season could be in the cards for one of baseball's best young players, and if that happens, he could certainly challenge Trout for the AL MVP.