All Smiles From Here On Out

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A Smile Is Worth A Thousand Words (or $341 million)

Francisco Lindor signed a 10-year $341 million contract with the New York Mets this offseason that came with high expectations and the promise of being the centerpiece of delivering the next championship to Queens. Unfortunately, after a scorching hot spring, the four-time all-star has performed drastically below expectations.

There are skeptics that have suggested that Lindor has been declining for “three years,” which is a mischaracterization of a five-month slump that has spanned from September of 2019, through the shortened 2020 season, to May of 2021. On August 31 of 2019, the gold glove shortstop was batting .299 with an .887 OPS.

During the COVID-shortened 2020 season, a year in which J.D. Martinez hit .213 and Nick Castellanos hit .225, Lindor carried a slash line of .259/.335/.415 with eight home runs and six stolen bases over 236 at-bats with an expected batting average of .278 and .345 xwOBA with the Indians. Expected statistics are not predictive, they are descriptive, but given the underlying metrics surrounding the performance following a successful 2019 campaign, it is likely over 162-games that surface stats would have normalized. In fact, if you look at Lindor’s career as a whole, it’s difficult to identify the slump due to the small sample of games in which it has occurred (below).

Lindor wOBA
Lindor wOBA

We now have 95 percent of the 2019 season where Francisco Lindor performed to expectations, followed by two-months of underperforming expected statistics in a pandemic-shortened campaign. The time machine has arrived in 2021, where the struggling shortstop is starting to heat up as the calendar turns the page from May to June.

Lindor scored the winning run on Wednesday during the Mets' 7-6 win over the Diamondbacks, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored in total. Over the last five games the former all-star is batting .409 with a double, triple, home run, and three RBI while raising his batting average by 24 points.

Is the Mets shortstop turning a corner? After all, a short slump compounded by the excitement and pressure of wanting to perform well after signing a massive contract can lead to pressing at the plate. Pressing, combined with the home crowd booing, can compound even further into a longer slump. That is exactly what we have witnessed to start the 2021 season. A slump, not a slide.

Lindor has posted the lowest O-Swing rate of his entire career (28.7 percent), while maintaining an 88.3 percent Z-Contact rate. The lowest BABIP ever registered during his six seasons in the majors before 2021 was .275. This season Lindor has posted a .217 mark to go with a 7.7 HR/FB ratio (lowest of his career).

Lindor Chart
Lindor Chart

Since the start of 2019, Lindor is hitting .264/.328/.458, and has earned the exact same fWAR as Manny Machado, while still exceeding Corey Seager, Javier Baez, and Carlos Correa. This is while “sliding for three years.” It is highly unlikely that at the age of 27, Francisco Lindor has forgotten how to hit a baseball. Buy low while you can. The window is about to slam shut.

Pitchers with an EDGE

Framber Valdez vs Red Sox

7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 10 K

Valdez was able to reach 102 pitches over seven innings on Wednesday against the Red Sox despite throwing 31-pitches in the first inning. The southpaw generated 18 swings and misses with a 64 percent whiff rate on his curveball. Three of the five singles that Valdez allowed did not even leave the infield. Framber is back ladies and gentlemen.

Adbert Alzolay vs Padres

5 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 7 K

Alzolay had a short rough patch in the fourth inning but was otherwise in control, allowing just three hits and one walk to go with seven punchouts. The 26-year-old generated a 47 percent whiff rate on his soldier and 36 percent CSW across his entire arsenal. Alzolay now carries a 3.62 ERA with 58 strikeouts to just 11 walks over 54 2/3 innings.

Nick Pivetta vs Astros

6 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 9 K

Nick Pivetta became the first Red Sox pitcher to allow three or fewer hits, strike out nine or more batters, and lose. The right-hander unfortunately faced off against Framber Valdez, who was on his game Wednesday. Pivetta sits at 6-1 this season with a 3.77 ERA and 1/22 WHIP over 59 2/3 innings.

Sean Manaea vs Mariners

9 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K

The Athletics' southpaw tossed a gem on Wednesday, throwing 111 pitches and reaching 95.8 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball. Manaea earned a 37 percent whiff rate on his sinker and 40 percent on the curveball versus the Mariners, leaving the left-hander with a 31 percent CSW across his entire arsenal for the game. The 29-year-old is having a solid season so far and now carries a 3.36 ERA over 69 2/3 innings with 70 strikeouts.

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Hitters with an EDGE

Anthony Rizzo vs Padres

3-for-4, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 R

There does not seem to be any rust after Rizzo missed several games with a back injury. The 31-year-old is having a very strong season on his way to free agency this winter, batting .275/.377/.455 with five home runs and three stolen bases.

Randal Grichuk vs Marlins

2-for-5, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R

Grichuk, who was expected to be buried on the bench due to offseason acquisitions, now has 11 homers on the year with 41 RBI. That places the veteran outfielder fifth among major leaguers in runs batted in.

James McCann vs Diamondbacks

3-for-4, HR, 4 RBI, 1 R

After Jonathan Villar and Francisco Lindor led off the game with back-to-back singles, McCann belted a Madison Bumgarner fastball 411 feet for his fourth home run of the season. Three of McCann's four home runs this season have come over his last eight games, so maybe the threat of losing playing time to teammate Tomas Nido ignited a fire in the veteran catcher.

Cody Bellinger vs Cardinals

2-for-4, HR, 6 RBI, 2 R, BB

The Dodgers scored 11 runs during the first inning versus Carlos Martinez and the Cardinals, so it was likely a Los Angeles hitter was going to end up as one of the highlighted players on the night. Bellinger is just 7-for-35 (.200) on the season, after missing most of it due to injury, so it is understandable that he would want to swing at a 3-0 pitch while his team was up 7-1 in the first inning. Hopefully the grand slam puts Bellinger on the right track to go on a hot streak in June.

Ryan Jeffers vs Orioles

2-for-4, HR, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 R

Jeffers was recalled before Wednesday’s game after Mitch Garver was placed on the injured list after undergoing groin surgery. The 23-year-old responded by launching a Matt Harvey fastball 441 feet to centerfield and beating out his first career triple.

Priority Pickup

Tyler Anderson (Available in 87 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues)

If you are in need of a streaming option for Thursday, look no further than Tyler Anderson. The Pirates’ southpaw may not have the most attractive surface stats (4.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), but he has held opponents to two or less runs in six of his last eight starts. Anderson will have the opportunity to improve upon his numbers when he takes on the Marlins, who were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball in May. The 31-year-old is carrying a 1.22 percent swinging-strike rate (highest of his career) and 32.7 percent O-Swing rate, while Miami posted a 27.5 percent strikeout rate in May (worst in the National League). Just be prepared to move on after the matchup, as Anderson has a date with the Los Angeles Dodgers next week.

Closing Time

Edwin Diaz vs Diamondbacks

1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K (10th Save)

One day after blowing a save versus Arizona, the Mets sent Diaz right back out to the mound on Wednesday to close down the D-backs and secure his tenth save of the season. The right-hander has struck out 29 batters over 22 1/3 innings this season with seven walks and has converted 10 saves in 11 opportunities.

Aroldis Chapman vs Rays

1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 2 BB, 2 K (12th Save)

The flamethrower was a bit wild in the ninth inning, but was able to generate a 60 percent whiff rate against the Rays. Chapman continues to be borderline unhittable this season, carrying an absurd 0.41 ERA and 0.80 WHIP over 21 1/3 innings with 41 strikeouts.

Yimi Garcia vs Yankees

1/3 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 0 K (2nd Blown Save)

Garcia allowed back-to-back singles to start the bottom of the ninth inning before allowing a game-tying two-run triple to Bo Bichette. This opened the door for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to be the hero, but the Marlins decided to walk both Vlad and Teoscar Hernandez to load the bases for an exciting sacrifice fly from Joe Panik. Fantasy managers may not appreciate the extra two walks that Garcia added onto an already poor outing.

Brad Hand vs Braves

1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K (9th Save)

The left-hander struck out Johan Camargo looking to start the ninth inning. This is notable considering it was the first strikeout Hand has recorded in his last three appearances for the Nationals. The left-hander has managed to convert his last six save chances (9-for-11 overall), but it is hard to imagine the wheels staying on for much longer.

Ryan Pressly vs Red Sox

1 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 K (8th Save)

The 32-year-old was able to dance around two singles in the ninth inning to pock down his eighth save of the season Wednesday versus the Red Sox. Pressly generated a 33 percent whiff rate (4-of-12), while striking out Danny Santana swinging for the second out. The right-hander is now holding a 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP this season over 24 innings with 25 punchouts.

Daniel Bard vs Rangers

1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 2K (6th Save)

The right-hander tossed a perfect frame in the ninth Wednesday, including striking out Brock Holt and Nick Solak to lock down the Rockies 6-3 win over the Rangers. Bard has had a rocky season, no pun intended, with a 4.09 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 22 innings, but he has pitched well of late. The 35-year-old has tossed 8 1/3 scoreless innings over the last seven games with a 0.72 WHIP and 16 strikeouts.

Thursday’s Match Of The Day

Taijuan Walker (4-1, 1.84 ERA, 0.94 WHIP)

Yu Darvish (5-1, 2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP)

Taijuan Walker has exceeded expectations in every way so far this season, posting a career-low in-zone contact rate of 82.3 percent and 25.9 percent strikeout rate. The right-hander’s .217 wOBA against sits in the top-fourth percentile among qualified pitchers, while his new found increased velocity has allowed for a bump in whiff percentage across his entire arsenal. Walker will take on Yu Darvish, the Padres’ ace so far in 2021. The right-hander is coming off his worst outing of the season having allowed five runs over five innings to their Astros. Darvish is unlikely to post back-to-back poor outings and will likely deliver a strong performance against a still weakened Mets lineup.

American League Quick Hits: Michael Brantley may return from the injured list during the Astros upcoming road trip after being sidelined with a hamstring injury … Twins catcher Mitch Garver underwent groin surgery on Tuesday night … Yordan Alvarez played left field on Wednesday, the first time he has started a game defensively since the 2019 World Series … Twins promoted prospect Gilberto CelestinoJustin Dunn was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation.

National League Quick Hits: Christian Pache was activated from the injured list and optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett … Shane Greene may be activated by the Braves in the next several days … J.D. Davis has yet to resume swinging a bat and there is currently no timetable for his return to the Mets … Nationals placed Stephen Strasburg on the 10-day injured list with a strained neck and recalled Kyle McGowinJonathan Villar left Wednesday’s game with right hamstring tightness, in what has been a nightmare season for the Mets health-wise … Madison Bumgarner left his start early due to shoulder discomfort he says has been bothering him for two to three weeks … A.J. Pollock is expected to be activated from the injured list on Friday … Tucker Davidson will be recalled by the Braves to make the start Thursday versus the Nationals.