The Indians have big questions to answer this spring in regards to Francisco Lindor’s future with the team, but for the meantime, he will be the Tribe’s opening day shortstop. A more immediate question, perhaps, might be where manager Terry Francona should pencil in Lindor when constructing the opening day batting order. So far in Goodyear, Ariz, there has been mild discussion of taking Frankie out of the leadoff spot, despite both Lindor’s and Francona’s love for it:
“I love Frankie leading off. I know Frankie loves leading off. At some point… I’ll sit down with him as our team starts to look like it’s coming together… I’ll sit down with a few guys and see where they have a comfort level,” Francona told reporters at the start of Spring Training.
Over the last three season, the four-time All-Star has held a firm grip on the top spot in the order. On paper, the casual observer wouldn’t see the issue with this, as Lindor has smashed 30 home runs, scored 100 runs and has continued to perform as one of the best players in baseball over the last two seasons. However, look beneath the surface, and you’ll discover that it’s actually limited the Tribe’s offense in a variety of ways.
Of Lindor’s 70 home runs over the last two seasons, 54 of them have been solo homers. That converts to about 77% of his power that only contributes one run to the box score. Last season, 66% of his plate appearances came with no runners on base. Simply put, the Indians are taking runs away from themselves. The logical solution is the drop him slightly in the lineup, allowing him to bat with runners on base more often. If you’ll remember, Frankie hit in the third spot for much of the 2016 season, a time that Tribe fans remember fondly. Something else to consider is that Lindor’s average with runners in scoring position is not pretty (.202). However, with more opportunities, that number might climb to expected levels.
Unlike previous years, Francona has suitable options to hit leadoff this summer. Newly acquired second baseman Cesar Hernandez and rookie standout Oscar Mercado provide plenty of speed at the top. Even Carlos Santana, who carries an excellent on-base percentage (.397) and patience at the plate, is a candidate for the job. Interestingly enough, Santana did hit leadoff against right-handed pitchers during the magical 2016 run. Most likely, Lindor will hit second, possibly third in the opening day lineup, judging by the buzz around Goodyear from Frankie himself:
“I guess I have to sit down and go over the lineup. I think not leading off might benefit the team a little bit more.”
He’s right. It spreads out the lineup. It capitalizes on his power. The Indians fell from third in runs scored to seventh in the American League in 2019 for a reason. Players like Franmil Reyes and Jose Ramirez can hit in the five and six spots instead of third and fourth. Fans won’t have to sit through as many insufferable 2-1 losses as they did last season. Taking Lindor out of the leadoff spot is best for all involved.