The Mets aren’t quite at the same low rate with strikeouts they were in the first week of the season but they’re still one of the best in baseball, as their team-wide rate of 19.2 is tied for the fourth-lowest K% in all of MLB. Among players with at least 10 PA, there are two outliers on the club. Tomas Nido, who always strikes out a lot for a guy with no power, is making even less contact than normal, as he has a 32.0 K%. And then there’s Francisco Lindor.

In what is truly a shock, Lindor has a 32.7 K%. It’s shocking for at least two reasons. First, Lindor has a lifetime 15.5%, so he’s whiffing at more than twice his normal rate. Second, and this one is certainly more subjective, he looks to me like he’s locked in at the plate. His swing looks good, he’s got a career-high 14.5 BB% and a very healthy .227 ISO.

How is it possible that a good contact hitter is having the best walk rate of his career and yet is doubling his lifetime strikeout rate?

Pitchers are essentially attacking him with the same mix of pitches, a few more fastballs but nothing that really stands out. What they are doing differently is giving him fewer pitches in the strike zone. Lifetime, Lindor has a 41.4 Zone% and this year it’s down to 35.3%. That’s noticeable but really not enough to explain what’s going on.

The compounding factor is what Lindor does with those pitches outside the strike zone. He’s always been willing to chase some of those pitches but when he did, he made contract with them at a high rate. Lifetime, he has a 71.0% contact rate at pitches he swings at outside the zone. This year, it’s down to 55.6%.

So, Lindor is seeing more pitches out of the strike zone and is making far less contact on those pitches when he pulls the trigger. That makes sense for the additional strikeouts. What’s still a bit of a mystery is how he can have these things yet still be walking at the accelerated clip he has so far here in the early going.

While pitchers are throwing Lindor more balls outside of the strike zone, he’s combating that by swinging at fewer of those pitches off the plate. He has a lifetime 32.2 chase rate and last year Lindor swung at 33.8% of pitches outside of the strike zone. The year has a 27.3 O-Swing%, which is a career-low.

We always hear about the cat-and-mouse game between pitchers and hitters. In this iteration, pitchers are trying to get Lindor out by trying to get him to chase pitches out of the zone. It seems an odd thing to try versus a guy with middle-of-the-road swing rates. It’s one thing to do against Salvador Perez, who this season has a 60.5 Swing%. It seems curious to do versus Lindor, who has a lifetime 48.0 Swing%. So, how’s it working? Lindor, despite the strikeouts, is adjusting somewhat. His Swing% is down to 43.5%.

It’s all well and good to look at things on a micro level. But how is Lindor doing overall as a hitter, looking at things besides walk and strikeout rates? His AVG has taken a hit but nearly all other categories he’s doing at least slightly better. Despite a 43-point deficit in AVG compared to a year ago, Lindor has seen his OBP go up 25 points from 2022. And his SLG is six points higher, too.

Lindor’s wOBA is up 17 points from a season ago. And it’s important to remember that Lindor was pretty good last year, so to see him do even better in these categories is a very nice thing. Finally, Lindor’s wRC+ is down a couple of points from a season ago, falling from 127 to 125.

As fans, it’s no fun to see the huge increase in strikeouts so far from Lindor. But if we zoom out from that, we can see that Lindor is handling the new way that pitchers are attacking him fairly well. Ideally, we’d see him swinging at even fewer pitches outside of the strike zone than he already is. But it’s a juggling act, because we don’t necessarily want a guy with a .227 ISO going up there looking for a walk. Especially one who’s the second-best HR threat on a team mostly devoid of power.

Of course, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt, given the small sample of 13 games. Lindor has just 55 PA and last year he had 706. It’s early.

It remains to be seen if pitchers will challenge Lindor more with strikes moving forward, since trying to get him to chase cannot be said to be a smashing success for hurlers so far. And if they don’t, will Lindor get even better at laying off some of those pitches he’s flailing at currently? We may not know how but the cat-and-mouse game will go on.

Two final thoughts:

Because strikeouts are not considered in BABIP, Lindor has seen a jump in that category, as he sports a .320 mark. It’s a stark comparison to his first year with the Mets, when Lindor posted just a .248 BABIP. Lifetime, he has a .294 mark in the category. Typically, we use BABIP to see if the hits are falling in. You can make the case that the pitchers’ approach to get Lindor to chase can’t be declared unsuccessful yet because the hits are falling in for Lindor at an unsustainable pace. That’s a reasonable take, even if my opinion is that he’s just trading the BABIP-killer weak ground outs and popups for strikeouts. Lindor’s GB% is a career-low 37.5% and his IFFB rate is down from last year’s 13.8% to 12.5%.

Lastly, people want very much to believe in the “protection” analysis of the game. The idea is that pitchers will challenge hitters if there’s a good hitter batting behind them, because they don’t want to face that second good hitter with a man on base. Pete Alonso, the Mets’ best power hitter, bats behind Lindor, yet pitchers are walking Lindor more than ever. Conversely, the Mets don’t have anyone of note batting behind Alonso, yet he has a 160 wRC+. If he continues hitting like this, Alonso will have his best season in the majors, despite the has-beens and never-weres who’ve generally batted behind him.

2 comments on “Digging into Francisco Lindor’s elevated strikeout rate

  • NYM6986

    You have to think that quick pitching, which is how I look at the pitch clock, has affected different players in different ways. That Lindor has struck out in nearly half his ABs is as odd as Alonso having struck out half as many times. Lindor will improve his stats and perhaps Alonso has simply elevated his game into a more complete hitter. I subscribe to the protect your hitter theory so Lindor should continue to see good pitches as long as Alonso stays on track. You hit on another great point that this team is pretty void of power and that will come back to haunt them. Take the Padres who have enormous HR potential and you see a team that can end a game with a quick walk off while we still need to draw a walk, steal a base and hope for two out single. Alvarez has also struck out in more than half of his limited ABs but he’s still getting his feet wet. His pitch framing and defense have been acceptable but what we really need is his HR bat.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the comment!

      Definitely a good point that the pitch clock affects hitters in different ways. I wonder if it’s been a positive for Alonso, that perhaps a quicker pace forces him to concentrate more than his previous – step out of the box after every pitch and take deep breaths – approach did.

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