Francisco Lindor grimacing

Monday Mets: The Francisco Factor

The first half of Francisco Lindor’s first season with the Mets has widely been viewed as a disappointment. So why are they having so much trouble winning without him?

The Mets held on to first place in the NL East for just over three months, before relinquishing it to the Philadelphia Phillies this past weekend. Aside from a few enjoyable streaks in June, there’s been an air of uncertainty around their success all year. While we all knew that the rest of the division had been giving the Mets the opportunity to run away with it for the last few months, we also knew that not taking advantage of it would come back to bite them. Well, they’re suddenly the third-place Mets, and it bites.

All season long we’ve been waiting for the Mets bats to wake up. The anticipation of a high-powered (or even medium-powered) Mets offense was so palpable that after a while, every deep fly out, every hard hit line drive right at a fielder, even every grounder into the hole that was ruined by the opposing team’s ridiculous shift was misinterpreted as a sign that the Mets batters were breaking out of their slump. Yet, here we are, almost a month after the All-Star break and the Mets still have the second worst run production in the majors. As could be expected, when there’s team-wide failure like this that catches up (and surpasses) whatever the team had been doing right, fingers start pointing. And, because it’s been a season-long issue that has affected all the players, despite a variety of lineups, different hitting instructors (fake and real), and other attempts to snap them out of this, those fingers are pointing directly at the manager. He’s an easy scapegoat, however, I personally think he’s not to be blamed.

There was an interesting, albeit dizzying, article on that broke down the Mets run-scoring issues with a variety of stats. As much as I dig on baseball statistics, after a while it was just a fancy way of numerically proving what everyone has seen with their naked eyes – the team has been struggling all year long. Beyond the stats though, there is a deeper story that I think is important…

When the Mets traded for Francisco Lindor this past December, I really thought they had addressed THE most significant hole in their roster. There were other issues that needed to be handled, of course. Still, aside from the five tools that I expected Lindor to bring to the Mets, I was sure that there was a leadership quality to his game that the Mets have been needing for a long time. Well, not all 5 tools have really been there this year, at least not consistently. On the other hand, the Mets lackluster play since Lindor’s July 16th oblique injury suggests that his on-field management has been sorely missed.

I would love to back up this statement with some Bill James-inspired deeply insightful numbers, and I can’t. I don’t think leadership is something that can truly be measured outside of seeing the effect it has on those being led. In other words, rather than taking a deep dive into understanding the effect that having Francisco Lindor on the field has had on the Mets, let’s take a much higher-altitude and easier to digest view. Prior to his injury, Lindor player 87 games for the Mets, and the team won 46 of them.  Since then, the Mets have played 23 games without him and won only 9.  While many Mets naysayers (including the team’s own fans) go right to the stats to evaluate a player’s value (or lack thereof) to the team, those who were watching the game surely noticed the impact that Lindor had on his teammates. Whether it was calming a pitcher down before an inning went off the rails, or getting to grounders that no Mets shortstop has gotten to in years, or even knowing how to fire his team up when a rally was needed, Lindor was very obviously the captain of this squad, and always positioned himself as such. The production hadn’t been there, but the intangibles certainly were.

Last week I wrote that Michael Conforto’s bat is going to be a key factor in determining the outcome of this season. Watching the Mets go 1-6 and suffer their first 4-game losing streak of this season this past week, and looking even worse than those numbers suggest, reminded me that it’s about more than just RBIs and OPS. This team needs that on-the-field leadership that Lindor brought with him when he got here from Cleveland, and I don’t see that coming any time soon from anyone else on this roster.

The Mets held on to first place for about 14 weeks. They wake up today 2.5 games out with 8 weeks to go. The Phillies won’t keep winning games like they have been. The Braves won’t keep winning like they have been. And if the Mets can find someone to provide the on-field direction they’ve been missing over the past few weeks, they have an opportunity to turn things back around. I mean, they can’t really keep losing, right?