The Cleveland baseball franchise has existed for 120 years and two things have been fairly consistent over that entire period: great starting pitching and great short stops. There have been few years since Terry Turner joined the franchise in 1904 that Cleveland didn’t have a long term quality short stop and the latest of those, Francisco Lindor, has unquestionably been one of the best.
Both offensively and defensively, Lindor’s relatively short career compares favorably to the Indians Hall of Famers at the position, Joe Sewell and Lou Boudreau, as well as the one waiting just outside, Omar Vizquel. Below is a very basic overview looking at the most elite Indians shortstops ever:
|Short Stop||Years Starter||G||R||H||2B||3B||HR||RBI||SB||OPS||FLD|
|Joe Sewell||1921 – 1928||1513||857||1800||375||63||30||869||71||.808||.951|
|Lou Boudreau||1940 – 1949||1560||823||1706||367||65||63||740||50||.789||.973|
|Francisco Lindor||2015 – 2020||777||508||896||191||15||138||411||99||.834||.981|
|Omar Vizquel||1994 – 2002, 2004||1478||906||1616||288||39||60||584||279||.731||.985|
|Ray Chapman||1913 – 1920||1051||671||1053||162||81||17||364||233||.709||.939|
Comparing Lindor to the greats (again, two Hall of Famers, one currently on the ballot and one tragically cut down before his time), Lindor’s primary drawback is his lack of games/years with the team. That being said, he certainly crammed as much as possible into that short time span. He hit home runs like Woodie Held with a batting average like Vizquel and Chapman and a glove as good as Omar’s (unfortunately, few living have seen any of the others play and only Boudreau at that). Offensively, he compares more favorably to Roberto Alomar than any Indians shortstop with his combination of power, speed and on base ability.
While his late start in 2015 cost him a shot at a Rookie of the Year (he finished second) and an All-Star appearance, he did appear in every All-Star game since. His four appearances were second most as an Indians short stop to Boudreau in total (7) and consecutively (5). In addition to his All-Star appearances, Lindor snagged two Gold Gloves (2016 and 2019), the first for an Indian at the position since Vizquel in 2001 and overall since Grady Sizemore in 2009. While Andrelton Simmons has offered some competition in the American League for the award since joining the Angels in 2016 (he won in 2017 and 2018), there has been no question that Lindor has been a top two defensive short stop in the AL since 2015 with 54 runs saved according to UZR (11.1 UZR/150).
Going back to the beginning, Lindor was taken in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft (8th overall) and went straight to Mahoning Valley to make his professional debut that year. Immediately, there was more excitement around Lindor than had surrounded any Indians first rounder in decades and his success in 2013 between Akron and Carolina accelerated that excitement. At just 20 years old, Lindor had a solid season in Columbus in 2014 and appeared the obvious option for starting big league short stop in 2015 with no heir apparent. Asdrubal Cabrera had been traded to St. Louis for Zach Walters late in the 2014 season with Jose Ramirez and Mike Aviles picking up most of the slack.
Instead of breaking out of spring with Lindor as starter, the Indians chose Ramirez. This was, of course, prior to Ramirez becoming the top hitter on the team and he struggled greatly, batting .180/.247/.240 over his first 55 games prior to demotion to AAA and the promotion of Lindor. Ramirez struggled from the first game of the season and it was obvious that he was not ready to handle the full time starter job, but the Indians refused to promote Lindor until they were clearly past the point where he wouldn’t be effected by super 2 status and they would get an extra year of control. At the time, there were those of us who argued it was more important to build good will than to save a few dollars by keeping him from super 2 status. We don’t know if that treatment in his rookie season had anything to do with his unwillingness to sign an extension at any point, but we do know for sure that his extra year of play did allow the Indians to make the trade that happened earlier this week. Given the money on the table for 2022, I do not personally believe he ever would have re-signed with Cleveland and their only chance of avoiding this situation would have been a very early extension like those given to Ramirez, Carlos Carrasco and Roberto Perez.
Following his second place finish for Rookie of the Year in 2015, Lindor hit .301/.358/.435 over 158 games in his first full season. While he added a ton more power over the next three seasons, 2016 was still a huge year for Lindor as he played in his first All-Star game, won his first Gold Glove and was one of the top offensive performers on a team that would ultimately reach the World Series. Lindor homered in his first ALDS game against New York, then hit another in his first ALCS game against Toronto. Overall, he played 15 games and hit .310/.355/.466 although he went just 1 for 12 over the final three games against the Cubs.
In 2017, Lindor added to his stellar defense with booming offense, earning his first Silver Slugger (first for an Indians infielder since Asdrubal Cabrera in 2011) thanks to career highs with 44 doubles and 33 doubles. Again, he was a primary leader on the way to the play-offs and again he had a dramatic appearance once there. In game two against the Yankees, Lindor came to the plate in the rain, down five runs with the bases loaded in the sixth. Against Chad Green, Lindor hit a grand slam off the right field foul pole to bring the game within one, allowing the Indians to eventually come back to win in extra innings. This remains the Indians last post-season win.
While the season ended abruptly after that game with the Yankees sweeping the rest of the series, Lindor would bump up his production even more in 2018. He increased all his rate stats and set new highs with 25 steals, 38 home runs and 92 RBI. He won his second Silver Slugger, finished sixth in MVP voting and hit two more home runs in the ALDS against Houston despite the Indians getting swept. Always improving, Lindor won his second Gold Glove in 2019 while maintaining his power and increasing both his efficiency on the bases and at the plate. For the fourth straight year he was part of the All-Star game and received MVP votes following the season.
The 2020 season was definitely a down year for Lindor as questions of a trade marred his season with the Indians deciding to retain him through the end of the year for the play-off run. Again the Indians were swept, this time by the Yankees, but he added another double in the two game series, giving him a .263/.327/.463 career play-off batting line with four doubles and five home runs in 25 games.
When placing Lindor amongst the Indians all-time greats, it’s a very interesting situation. Never before has a player took off so rapidly and been traded off so quickly. His career stats rank among the best in team history with his eight 2020 home runs pushing him to the top of the list of Indians short stops and his 99 steals second most to Vizquel among short stops who played games beyond 1920. However, his lack of career games keeps him from reaching the top of the heap. His early exit can be largely chalked up to the current financial situation in baseball, but more so to the Indians being unable to sign him to an extension early on. The biggest hurdle in signing such an extension very well could have been the hype that Lindor received from the point he was drafted on, a hype that he matched and exceeded during his time in Cleveland.
To remember Lindor’s Tribe career, check out a few of his highlights from the last six seasons.