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New York Mets Position Previews: Shortstop

Francisco Lindor Preview

With all position players now reporting in to the New York Mets Spring Training facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida, the final roster competitions will get underway. While some spots are hotly contested, others are practically set. Each Wednesday leading up to opening day, a new position will get its own preview regarding its starters, backups and any potential training camp battles. So far, the catchers, first basemen and second basemen have received their breakdowns. Today, the shortstops are up.

The Starter

Based on his track record alone, Francisco Lindor may already be the greatest shortstop to ever appear on a Mets roster. Arguably the best in the league since making his debut in 2015, Lindor will at least be the best Mets shortstop since prime Jose Reyes. It’s not an exaggeration to say that trading for Lindor may ultimately change the course of this franchise, especially if the team extends him beyond this season.

Cleveland Indians History
Lindor homers for the Indians (Jason Miller, Getty Images)

By now, most people should know Lindor’s many accolades. At just 27 years old he is a four-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and two-time Gold Glover (including one Platinum Glove), all with the Cleveland Indians. To say Lindor is on a Hall of Fame trajectory is an understatement. He’s already accumulated 28.7 bWAR in only six seasons and possibly still hasn’t hit his prime.

Defensively, there are few shortstops who can match Lindor’s prowess with a glove. In roughly 6700 innings, he’s racked up 46 DRS, 54 UZR and 36 OAA. Not to mention he also owns an elite .981 fielding percentage and over 1900 assists. With excellent glovework, solid speed and near perfect reaction time, there’s not much a hitter can do when he puts the ball in play anywhere near Lindor.

Of course, Lindor’s success with a glove is only matched by his skills with a bat. A career .285/.346/.488 hitter, Lindor is one of the premier switch hitters in baseball. Utilizing all parts of the field, he is able to hit and hit for power regardless of which side of the plate he’s on.

Overall, while his barrel rate has dropped each year since topping out at 9.3% in 2018, Lindor still sports above average exit velocity (89.9 mph in 2020) and hard hit percentage (41.1%). With three straight 30-homerun seasons from 2017-19, he’s currently at 138 in total. If he continues this pace, he should eventually pass Miguel Tejada (307) for fourth on the all-time shortstop homerun list. It’s also not out of the question that Lindor might even pass Cal Ripken Jr. (431) to take third on the list, though, longevity will certainly play a role there.

He isn’t simply a pure power hitter either. Lindor comes equipped with a keen eye and elite bat-to-ball skills. His low strikeout rate (14.1% vs. 21.8% for the league) and whiff rate (17.3% vs. 24.5%) make him one of the hardest outs in baseball. Combine that with his ability to consistently make contact on pitches outside the zone (70.4% vs. 59.4%) and Lindor is a nightmare for any pitcher to face. Plus, when he does get on base, his base stealing abilities (99-for-126) will only exacerbate that problem for pitchers.

While 2020 saw a regression in a lot of these numbers, the hope is that all of this is a result of the general strangeness of that season. Also, it says a lot that Lindor’s worst season still saw him finish with an above average 102 OPS+. If he can return to MVP levels in 2021, his bat alone could carry the entire Mets offense.

A Familiar Backup

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In addition to being Jeff McNeil‘s primary backup at second, Luis Guillorme projects to be Lindor’s main backup as well. Despite being his natural position, Guillorme has actually spent the least amount of time in the majors at shortstop. Still, in 57.2 innings, he does have 1 DRS and 1.1 UZR. Perhaps more impressively, Guillorme owns a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage and zero errors. Just like at second, much of this can be attributed to his excellent glove skills and reaction time. While it is a small sample size, there shouldn’t be much doubt that he can hold is own at the position.

As for his offensive ability, there isn’t much to say. Guillorme profiles as a below average hitter with low power, but decent line drive numbers. However, in 68 plate appearance last year he did show a bit of promise, slashing .333/.426/.439 with a 141 OPS+. 2021 should reveal whether this was good luck or genuine improvement.

Veteran Depth

Guillorme isn’t the only Mets utility player at shortstop. Veterans Jonathan Villar and Jose Peraza will also compete for a role there, just as they will at second base.

Villar currently has the edge over Peraza due to signing a major league contract with the Mets. Unfortunately, Villar is also an even worse defender at shortstop than he is at second. Even though it’s his main position, he’s never been particularly good there. In over 3200 innings, Villar owns -14 DRS, -30.4 UZR and -8 OAA. He’s also committed 74 errors and maintains a dismal fielding percentage of .954.

As mentioned in the second base preview, Villar is mostly here on account of his bat. While he’s been average for most of his career, as recently as 2019 he was actually one of the better hitting shortstops in the league. Slashing .274/.339/.453 with a 109 OPS+, 24 homeruns and 40 stolen bases that year, Villar will, at the very least, be a great bench player.

Meanwhile, Peraza is currently a non-roster invitee at Mets camp. Defensively, his abilities are bit difficult to nail down due to his DRS, UZR and OAA being all over the place. The best instance of this came in 2018 when he was worth 5 OAA, but -1 DRS and -3.6 UZR. All of this is to say that each of these metrics measures different things, with OAA in particular being much more unique than the others and arguably giving the best overall view of a fielder’s abilities. For now, Peraza’s defense is a wild card.

As a hitter, Peraza is pretty unspectacular, slashing just .270/.310/.372 with a 79 OPS+ in parts of six seasons. He does boast great speed with 78 career steals in 109 attempts. As such, the most likely scenario in which Peraza sees time in the majors this year is as a late-season callup primarily used for pinch running.

That wraps things up for the shortstops. Check back next Wednesday for the third basemen.

Featured Image Courtesy of the Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

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