Mets fans have always been known as a rational bunch. The same, of course, is true of the fine people whose job it is to cover this team. That’s why, when Francisco Lindor put up some pretty atrocious numbers to begin his Mets tenure in 2021, nobody panicked, and everybody remained secure in the knowledge that the superstar player the Mets gave an overwhelmingly huge contract to would eventually put up the kind of production he’s put up over his entire career.
Hang on, folks. My editors are handing me a note here...
Okay, so Mets fans and journalists did not exactly respond positively to Lindor’s rough start in his first season in New York. While his final numbers in that season ended up being respectable enough—really, how often are we going to call a 4.2 fWAR season disappointing?—many people were unable to overlook his incredibly rough first couple months with the club. As such, Lindor entered the 2022 season with something to prove—much like the Mets as a whole did. Both Lindor and the team as a whole needed to prove that they were for real, that they were capable of putting up the kind of production that the money behind them suggested they should.
Well, here we are, having watched the Mets put up one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. And Lindor was arguably the MVP of that all-time great squad. Between his improved offensive production, his continued sterling defense, and his overall consistency, the player the Mets thought they were acquiring from Cleveland two years ago is the player we saw in 2022, and boy oh boy was it a lot of fun.
After starting his Mets tenure with a 70 wRC+ in the first two months of the 2021 season, it behooved Lindor to get off to a strong start in his sophomore season in New York. And he did just that, putting up a 145 wRC+ in the month of April as both he and the Mets came into the season guns blazing. That first month represented what was to come from Lindor, as he played like the player he was with Cleveland: a well-rounded offensive player, someone whose power and baserunning allowed him to fit like a glove in the top third of the Mets lineup.
Looking at Lindor’s month-to-month numbers, the only time period that stands out in a negative way is June, when he put up just a 78 wRC+ (this bad stretch to his season was ill-timed, as it likely resulted in his being snubbed for the All-Star game). The fact that that month was just a rough one was no coincidence—on the evening of June 1st, Lindor accidentally shut a hotel door on his right middle finger, fracturing it and keeping him out of the lineup the following day. While the initial fear was that this might be an injury which would require an IL stint, he wound up missing just that one game—and in fact, that one game ended up being the only game Lindor did not play in throughout the entire 2022 season.
It did take Lindor a while to regain his form after the injury, hence his disappointing June numbers. Still, the fact that he played on in spite of that speaks to the overall consistency that he provided to the Mets this season. Regardless of what else was going on with the Mets, one thing that we could always rely on was that we would see Lindor’s name in the lineup every night. Playing through injury and continuing to insist on playing every day even in the dog days of the season showed the kind of leadership that a player with the kind of contract that Lindor has should provide to his team.
Of course, seeing him in the lineup every day was also a good thing because of the level of production he was providing. So why, exactly, was Lindor so much better this year in comparison to 2021? Are there any underlying statistical elements we can point to that demonstrate tangible improvement on his hitting performance?
Well... not really. In looking at his Statcast numbers, I was struck by how similar his 2022 batted ball profile looked to his 2021 profile. His xBA was the same in both seasons (.253), and his xSLG was actually higher in 2021 (.453 as opposed to .427 this year). It doesn’t seem as though he was actually hitting the ball all that much harder in 2022—his hits were just finding holes, as represented by the difference in BABIP (.248 in 2021, .301 in 2022).
The takeaway here? Lindor is good. He was always good. It may be an oversimplification to say that his lesser 2021 numbers were solely the result of bad luck, but that certainly likely played a not insignificant role in it. Those two rough months to his 2021 season never represented the type of player he was, and nobody should have expected less from him in the long-term.
Those facts bore out in 2022, and Lindor’s final numbers were nothing short of outstanding. His 6.8 fWAR and 127 wRC+ were some of the best he’s put up in any single season in his entire career, beaten only by his 2018 season with Cleveland. He hit more homers in a season (26) than any Mets shortstop ever has. And of course, his defense requires no analysis, as he continued to shine at one of the most important positions on the field, simultaneously making flashy plays while also making complicated plays look routine.
He finished 9th in MVP voting, and arguably deserved to place even higher (certainly above teammate Pete Alonso, who provided better power numbers but otherwise was not as good as Lindor). And while the Mets failed to win the division and suffered a quick ejection from the playoffs, simply making it to October represented an accomplishment for a team that had not made it to the postseason since 2016. The team acquired Lindor in the hopes that he would end that drought, and while there is still far more work to do in reaching their ultimate goals, 2022 was one solid step towards accomplishing the vision they had when they gave Lindor the contract to make him the face of their franchise.
And he will continue to be the face of the franchise moving forward. Jacob deGrom has departed, and there are a lot of uncertainties facing the team in 2023 and beyond as they look to build on their 101-win season. But one thing we do know for certain is that Francisco Lindor will continue to be the team’s starting shortstop for years to come. And if it wasn’t clear to some people in the aftermath of 2021, it’s clear now that that is something for which all Mets fans should be very grateful.