Francisco Lindor, 21, is slamming home runs, he’s legging out extra base hits and finishing them with ridiculous slides, and he’s making dazzling plays at shortstop. He’s actually been much better on that side of the ball than fellow rookie shortstop, Carlos Correa. And his offense has at least been comparable to his 20 year old peer. But he hasn’t garnered nearly the amount of attention that Correa, playing for the first place Astros, has. It’s long past time to take Francisco Lindor’s Rookie of the Year chances seriously, though.
The Cleveland Indians shortstop currently stands atop all American League rookies in WAR with Correa, his main competition, close behind (Miguel Sano of the Twins is a strong contender, too, but the fact that he’s played about 20 less games than the others won’t help his chances). But here’s what’s different between the two: Lindor has been a much better defensive shortstop than Correa, while the latter has done most of his damage with the bat. What’s significant about that is that the Indians started out as one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. Lindor has been so good since taking over for Jose Ramirez that the Indians have gone from 28th in the majors in Defensive Efficiency to 10th (Giovanny Urshela who got called up to play third base around the same time might deserve some credit, but that could easily be a disadvantage as much as an advantage considering both are rookies).
That’s not all, though. While Correa has had the benefit of playing on a rapidly improving, scary Astros lineup, Lindor has had to navigate heavy expectations of being inserted into the lineup of an underachieving, largely passive Indians team that was desperate for a savior. While it was a minor struggle to produce offensively for the first month of Lindor’s major league career (with an OBP of .258), he has found his stride since July, raising his OBP to all the way to .345 (this is all coming while ill-advisedly attempting sac bunts at an inexplicable frequency, by the way, Correa, with an OBP of .339, has zero sacrifice hits, while Lindor has 12). And it’s no coincidence that the Indians (with improved offensive performances elsewhere, granted) have fought their way back into wild card contention at the same time. After being in and out of last place up until August 25, they are now only four games out of the wild card with only three teams ahead of them.
Through it all, Lindor has managed to put up quite comparable (if not outright superior) numbers to Carlos Correa. He’s also been arguably more important to his team. The fact that he’s done it all against higher expectations ought to count for plenty, as well. To say nothing about the Indians making the playoffs, if they stay in contention through the end of the season, nobody should be surprised when Francisco Lindor makes the AL Rookie of the Year race a nail-biter. If he keeps up his pace he’ll deserve to win it, regardless of how the Indians finish.