Francisco Lindor entered the 2017 season with 27 career home runs and anyone who followed his minor league career was thrilled by his offensive performance.
In over 400 career minor league games, Lindor hit .279 with 21 home runs. He was supposed to be a defensive whiz with average offensive talent. If he replicated Andrelton Simmons’ career path, no one would have been shocked.
But now just one month into his third year in the majors, Lindor already has seven home runs and is on pace for 43.
That sounds like an impossible rate for Lindor to keep up, and it probably is a little bit out of reach, but it also doesn’t look like a fluke based on some key stats.
You’ve probably heard a lot about launch angle and exit velocity lately. If you aren’t familiar with those numbers and their relationship, check out another article I wrote recently on Yandy Diaz which breaks down their importance.
Lindor has always hit the ball hard (he’s a career .305 hitter, so that should be a given) but this year we’ve seen a slight uptick in his exit velocity and a massive increase in launch angle. Check out the chart below showing his percentile rank compared to all MLB hitters in each category over the last three years:
Players with the highest launch angle tend to be the all-or-nothing type hitters. Trevor Story, Joey Gallo, Chris Carter, Miguel Sano all rank in the 90th percentile or higher, for example. A player’s with Lindor’s skill set never wants to be in that range.
Lindor falls into a tier below them, in a range that features a lot of well-rounded power hitters, who are equally capable of driving the ball over the fence as hitting a rope into the gap. Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Jones, Charlie Blackmon, Brian Dozier are all players who fall within five percentage points of Lindor in this category so far this season.
Earlier this season Lindor told the Plain Dealer he wasn’t trying to elevate the ball: “I’m just trying to hit line drives, find my space and try to hit it there. I’m not trying to hit it in the air… I’m not a power hitter. I’m not going to be a power hitter. It’s not going to happen.”
It’s probably true that Lindor isn’t trying to hit the ball in the air, but like all hitters, he is trying to hit line drives—and he’s become far more consistent in this endeavor. And as his line drives increase, so does the chance that he gets under the ball and launch it into the seats.
During his first two years in the majors, Lindor’s groundball rate was over 50 percent. It’s plummeted to 34.5 percent this season.
No hitter wants to hit a ground ball—as soon as the ball hits the dirt it slows down and the odds of it being fielded increase exponentially. Hitters want to live in launch angle sweet spot which creates line drives and deep fly balls, and that’s exactly where Lindor has been this season.
Some of Lindor’s home runs might actually be classified as “mistakes” because he got under the ball. But because he is squaring up the ball more consistently, his mistakes are coming slightly under the ball rather than on top, as was the case in years past.
Based on this approach, whether Lindor intends to or not, he is going to hit more home runs. His pace might drop off slightly, but a 25-30 home run season isn’t just within reach, it should be expected.