CLEVELAND – Few shortstops can say they have a double-digit home run total through 50 games in 2017.
In fact, only Francisco Lindor has accomplished such a feat.
The 23-year-old switch-hitter added to his rising total of 12 homers with a solo shot to the bleachers in right field off Sean Manaea on Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Although the lone offense proved too little in the 3-1 defeat, it put Lindor on pace for 38 home runs, an astonishing total given his stature as a 5-foot-11-inch middle infielder weighing 190 pounds.
“I mean he’s stronger I think than people realize,” said manager Terry Francona. “And when you’re a really good player and you start to get experience, I don’t think it matters what you did (in) the minor leagues. Guys are here now and they get better and like I say, the really good players with that experience, they start doing things. Then confidence plays a part.”
With a career-high 15.9% home run to fly ball rate entering play, Lindor launched this fourth-inning bomb, his fifth from the right side of the plate this season…
Result: Solo home run on a 2-2 slider
Pitch Velocity: 79.6-mph slider
Exit Velocity: 97.2-mph
Distance: 378 feet
Launch Angle: 29 degrees
Hit Probability: 40%
Not the flashiest of long balls, but Lindor puts just enough lift under the baseball to even the score at 1-1 in what shaped out to be a tightly contested pitcher’s duel.
“Getting the barrel to the ball,” Lindor said of his newfound power. “Getting the barrel out front. The at-bat before, I hit it a little bit closer to my body. And then the second at-bat, I hit it a little more out front. That's the difference. I won't hit any home runs back here. All my home runs are going to be out front. Whether it's opposite, pull or center field, all my home runs are going to come when I get the barrel out.”
Whatever the case may be, Lindor is certainly hitting the ball at a higher launch angle, as seen through his gradual progress since 2015…
2015 Launch Angles (Average: 3.2 degrees, 12 home runs, 13% HR/FB rate, 99 games)
2016 Launch Angles (Average: 7.6 degrees, 15 home runs, 9.9% HR/FB rate, 158 games)
2017 Launch Angles (Average: 12.2 degrees, 12 home runs, 15.9% HR/FB rate, 51 games)
When Francona was asked about the launch angle of the baseball, he cited experience and the improved ability to hit high pitches as the reason for Lindor’s elevated (literally) power.
“Well I mean I know what [launch angle] is,” said Francona. “But, I don’t think that hitters can, or very few, can adjust their angle in an at-bat. I just think it’s a matter of staying through the ball, hitting pitches that are up, things like that. I just think that good hitters, they get pitches that they can handle and they can do something with it. I think like in Frankie’s case, if you hit enough line drives, you’re going to hit home runs almost by default.”
A career-high 43.7% of Lindor’s batted balls are coming through the air while a career-low 36.7% of Lindor’s batted balls are bouncing on the ground, proving his ability to find the barrel of the bat on a multitude of occasions.
“I have an idea of what I want to do with pitches, and what I want to do in certain counts,” Lindor said. “But, it's not like I'm saying, 'I'm going to hit a home run this pitch. I want a home run.' I wish. Trust me, I wish. I'd hit 50 every year. But, that won't be the case. I don't think I'll ever hit 50. I've just got to continue to put the ball in play and hope for the best.”
Lindor currently ranks eighth in all of baseball in barreled balls (17), joining some fine company that includes Bryce Harper, Marcell Ozuna and Matt Kemp, all of which have identical totals.
Not bad for a player with just one full season at the major league level under his belt.
“I just think the experience, the 1,000 at-bats or 1,200, there’s no replacement for that,” said Francona.
The Puerto Rican prodigy is not sure how his power numbers are shaping out the way they are, but seems to be thankful for the surprising production.
“It's just, I don't know,” Lindor said. “It’s a blessing.”