Ks and BBs: A Tale of Two Mets
Author: Amy Cooper
Francisco Lindor may have been the biggest name traded prior to the 2021 season. And yet months later, he is having the worst year of his career for his new team, the New York Mets. At the trade deadline, the Mets acquired Javier Baez with the hopes of strengthening their division lead. Lindor and Baez have some things in common. They were both drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. Lindor was drafted number eight overall by the Cleveland Indians and Baez was selected with the very next pick by the Chicago Cubs. Both were born in Puerto Rico. They both made their MLB debuts at the age of 21, Baez in 2014 and Lindor in 2015. The last time they both appeared in Baseball America’s top 100 list was 2014, when Baez was 7th and Lindor was 10th. Throughout their time in the big leagues, Lindor has proven to be a much more productive hitter. There are many ways that Lindor helps a fantasy team (and his real life team).
Power is the category in which the two players are most similar. Lindor is tied for the 31st most homers in baseball since his debut in 2015. During this period, he’s second to Trevor Story in homers among players who have primarily played shortstop. He’s homered roughly every twenty-third (23.2) at bat and has a .478 slugging percentage. Javier Baez has 133 homers during this time. Albeit he’s achieved this in 543 fewer at bats than Lindor. He’s averaging a homer about every twenty at bats (20.4).
Lindor easily surpasses Baez when it comes to the ability to get on base and to avoid strikeouts. Lindor has a career OBP of .344, compared to Baez’s of .285. Francisco Lindor is 12th in baseball in walks since 2015. Baez meanwhile strikes out about every third at bat. Lindor has struck out less than once every six at bats. Only thirteen players have been better at avoiding strikeouts during that period. Lindor has 557 career K’s while Baez has struck out 914 times in his career.
The K’s numbers are particularly striking given that Lindor has 3,451 career at bats compared to Baez’s 2,908. Since Lindor’s first complete year in 2016 through 2020, he ranks first in at bats and plate appearances. Lindor has seen more at bats than Baez for two reasons. The first is that although Baez debuted one season earlier, he spent time in the minors in 2015, only seeing 293 MLB at bats in 2015. The second is their batting order position. Baez has had 1,532 at bats in the top four of the lineup, 49 at bats in the leadoff position. The batting order position he most often occupied was 4th, with 628 at bats. He has made at least 250 appearances everywhere in the batting order except first and ninth. Lindor has 3,446 at bats in the top four of the order and has predominantly lead off (1605 at bats.) Managers are likely to place players who avoid striking out at the top of the lineup in order to get more guys on base for the power hitters who traditionally hit 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Leadoff hitters see the most at bats in the game, given that they are the first to bat when the lineup turns over.
Lindor’s ability to get on base helps him to consistently be near the top of the league in runs and stolen bases. Lindor lead the league in runs in 2018 with 129 runs. The lowest he’s ranked since 2016 is 25th, when he scored 99 runs. Lindor has 557 runs scored, compared to Baez’s 397, since 2015. The two players have been similarly successful on the base paths- Lindor has successfully stolen the base in 79% of his tries and Baez has a 73% success rate. However, Lindor has 107 steals to Baez’s 76. This may have to do with the fact that the Indians stole a lot more bases than the Cubs. From 2015-2020, the Indians stole 571 bases to the Cubs’ 358 stolen bases. During his time on the Cubs, Baez led the team in steals in two seasons- 2018, 2019. His 21 steals in 2018 was the most any player had during the era. Baez does have speed, has a good success rate and perhaps was hindered by being on a team that didn’t run a lot. Stolen bases could be one category where Baez could contribute more, depending on where he signs this offseason.
Lindor’s ability to get on base raises his floor, but both players have struggled recently. In 2020, Baez hit just .203. He led the league in K’s with 145 and walked just 17 times. His walk rate was a lowly 3.0%. He ended the season with a .238 on base percentage. This year his BA sits at .241, with a OBP of .285. Lindor somewhat struggled in 2020 but is having his worst year in 2021, his first year with the Mets. Last year he hit a career low .258 but walked 24 times and had a .335 OBP, the same ratio he had in 2019, when he batted .284. His strikeout rate is a bit higher than his career average. In 2021, it’s 16.8%, compared to his career average of 14.4%. However his walk percentage is the highest of his career- 11.3%. This has allowed Lindor to have a .326 OBP and .702 slugging percentage. He has stolen 8 bases and scored 49 runs in 87 games. The main problem for Lindor this year has been that his batting average on balls in plays (.249) has been much lower than his career average (.294). I believe this number should normalize. However, even when he struggles, Lindor will find ways to benefit your fantasy team.
If Baez can lessen his K rate, he could be an elite option. Both of the players peaked in 2018, when they each posted their career high in offensive wins above replacement. Both finished in the top 11 in oWAR. Lindor finished at 8th (6.4) and Baez finished at 11th (5.5). That year Baez finished a K% of 25.9 and BB% of 5.0. Since then, these numbers have gone in undesirable directions. This year he has the highest K rate of his career- 36.4%. He is fourth in the majors in Ks. Despite having 22 homers on the year, his oWAR is just 2.3, ranking 66th in baseball.
It will be interesting to see what team Baez signs with during the offseason.The teams that the shortstops played for were pretty equivalent offensively from 2015- 2020. During this time period, the Cubs were 8th in baseball with 4,159 runs scored and the Indians were 9th with 4,099 runs scored. The Mets, with whom Lindor signed a ten-year extension this spring, have scored the third lowest runs per game in baseball this year. Baez doesn’t have sharp contrasts in home and away splits, In his career (815 games for the Cubs, 10 for the Mets) Baez has hit .259 at home and .264 on the road. While what teams he signs with may affect Baez’ stats somewhat, only reducing his Ks will truly elevate his game.
Statistics for this article taken from Statheads.com, baseball-reference.com and fan graphs.com