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Francisco Lindor is lost.
He’s lost at the plate, where he’s frustrated with the lack of results and the .185 batting average glaring at him through his first 40-plus games with the Mets. He’s lost while he tries to understand why any type of offensive boom continues to elude him. He’s lost as he attempts to imitate a more successful version of himself, a hitter who commanded the league’s attention four years ago.
Lindor, who trudged a .268 slugging percentage and just nine RBI into the team’s series against the Braves this weekend, said again and again he’s working hard. He’s trying to find his barrel-to-ball path, believing in the process, lifting weights, hitting in the cage, and sticking to an approach that’s worked in the past.
“I’m not tired,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I’m trying my best. It’s just, I’m not having the success.”
In Lindor’s words, he’s doing everything like he’s normally done every single year. Still, he said, his results at the plate have been inconsistent.
“I’m working as hard as I can, I’m doing everything I can,” Lindor said on Saturday. “There’s not a day that I come to the field and say, ‘I want to strike out today three or four times,’ or ‘I just don’t want to get a hit.’ I’m working. I’m working extremely hard, and I can’t wait to have results.”
Part of Lindor’s attempt to rectify his disappointing offensive start involves imitating himself.
Lindor said he is trying to recreate his swing from previous successful seasons, mainly 2017 and ’18, when he broke out for a combined 71 home runs across those two All-Star years. Lindor led MLB in runs scored (129) and plate appearances (745) in 2018.
The shortstop altered his plate approach before the 2017 season, displaying an uppercut swing that resulted in more fly balls. Per FanGraphs, 42.4% of the balls Lindor put in play that year were fly balls. In 2016, his fly-ball rate was just 28.4%. This year, though, his 29 hits across 157 at-bats are a small sample size, his fly-ball rate is 36.4%, which is just a tick higher than his career average in that category.
“I have tried so bad to imitate myself from 2017 when I started hitting home runs and then imitate myself in 2018,” Lindor said. “And imitating myself, I get it. But it’s really hard to get that feel back. I can’t personally remember what it felt like in 2017. I can try to imitate myself but I’m not quite there.
“The feel that I had in ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18, it’s very hard to remember. Even the feel from last year. I try to think, go back through my notes, things I wrote down or whether to stay aggressive or take more pitches... and it’s hard. It’s hard. ... I just haven’t had the success I want. But at the end of the day, there’s no excuses. There’s no excuses. I gotta be better for sure.”
The Queens faithful would certainly better appreciate the Lindor of old. Lindor has had a difficult time winning over the Mets’ fan base through his first two months of the 2021 season. The $341-million shortstop will be in Queens for the next 11 years and, at least through the first quarter of his debut season, he’s mostly heard boos.
The 28-year-old surmised Mets fans are booing him not because they don’t like him, but because they want better results. Lindor said the same person that boos him after an unsuccessful at-bat is the same person who cheers for him when he runs toward the dugout with a ball in his hand, just before he flips it over the net and gives it to a fan.
“It’s not fun,” Lindor said of the unwelcoming reaction from fans. “It’s a lonely feeling, especially when it’s your home crowd. But, with that being said, they want results. And there’s not one person in this world that expects more results than myself. They want results and so do I. I want results more than they do. It sucks.”
Though Lindor is struggling to hit, he’s received rave reviews from his manager and teammates on being an outstanding leader. He’s made fantastic plays in the hole that fans haven’t seen from a Mets shortstop since Jose Reyes dove around in the dirt during his prime. In the midst of one of his worst seasons at the plate, he’s still cracking jokes during press conferences and adding an infectious positive energy to the Mets clubhouse.
He’s kept his head up throughout his misfortunes, and that’s not changing anytime soon.
“I have experienced this before. Yeah, it is frustrating at times,” Lindor said. “Everybody wants to be successful. Everybody wants to win. Nobody wants to lose. And I want to have results of course. But am I sitting in the dugout crying? No, no, no. You will not see that. Because baseball is a beautiful thing and just because I’m not hitting doesn’t mean I can’t play defense or be a great baserunner or be an even better teammate.”