About 35 years ago, if a shortstop drove in 99 runs and clocked 25 homers, they’d be tried as a witch.
That’s exactly what Francisco Lindor has done this season though, and with 11 games to spare, the switch-hitting straw that stirs the Mets’ drink will finish the season with even prettier numbers. In 1987, the average MLB shortstop slashed .258/.315/.365 (.680 OPS) with an 80 wRC+, meaning as a collective, shortstops were 20% worse than the league’s average hitter.
Entering Friday’s series opener in Oakland, Lindor is flexing a .271/.344/.454 slash line (.798 OPS) and 130 wRC+. With four more RBI, he will break Carlos Guillen’s single-season record for runs driven in by a switch-hitting shortstop. The evolution of the modern, slugging shortstop is one of many changes that have swept through the games in recent years, and Lindor is perhaps the most prime example of how a guy who hits like a corner outfielder but fields like a middle infielder is the most valuable type of player a team can have.
His partner in the cleanup spot, meanwhile, is a type of baseball player that has been around since the days of Ruth, Gehrig, and dudes with names like Urban Shocker and Lil Stoner. Pete Alonso, the Mets’ six-three, 245 pound first baseman, has a familiar job description. His task every time he comes to the plate is to inflict pain upon the baseball. While Alonso has certainly become a much better all-around player during his four years in the big leagues, he is not much interested in hitting behind a runner or going first to third on a single.
Alonso’s job is to provide the pyrotechnics. Home runs, RBI and slugging percentage will always be the foundation of his game, and this season all of those things have held up sturdily. With 37 long balls, a National League-high 121 RBI and a .507 slugging percentage that puts him in the top 15 of qualified MLB hitters, Alonso is carrying the torch for traditional sluggers. With the help of modern data, we also know that Alonso is quite literally capable of hitting the ball harder than most, making him a slugger in the truest sense of the word. The Polar Bear’s maximum exit velocity puts him in the 98th percentile of MLB hitters, just a few ticks behind the Judge, Stanton and Vlad Jr. tier.
The Lindor and Alonso combination has been the league’s best in terms of run production. They’ve combined for 220 RBI already, the most of any two teammates in the league. While players like Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte deserve some credit there for consistently getting on base for them, Lindor and Alonso have also created a symbiotic relationship between themselves.
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Lindor, parked in the third spot of the lineup, does get many of his RBI chances from Nimmo and Marte. But with Alonso hitting after him, pitchers have no choice but to challenge Lindor, or they run the risk of giving him a free pass ahead of a prolific power hitter. With more pitches for Lindor to hit comes more chances for Alonso to knock him in.
His obscene strength also lets Alonso drive himself in all the time (37 times this season to be exact). But Lindor has been the runner on 26 of Alonso’s 121 RBI, the biggest chunk occupied by any of Alonso’s teammates. Having two of the game’s shiniest stars hitting back-to-back has led to obvious benefits for the Mets, though the team’s real beauty lies in the constellation of players surrounding Lindor and Alonso. Steve and Alex Cohen’s money has allowed the Mets to ace Team Building 101, which always preaches the value of supporting homegrown players with proven outside talent.
The same thing happened in the starting rotation with the team adding Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt to supplement Jacob deGrom, as well as in the outfield, where Nimmo — the Mets’ first-round pick in 2011 — has been flanked perfectly by veteran free agents Marte and Mark Canha.
But when historians look back at this year’s Mets, after parsing through the narrative-driven things like how they restored competency to the organization, they’ll look at how dominant Lindor and Alonso were statistically. Lindor leads NL shortstops in FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement by nearly a full win. His 6.7 paces the field, while Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson is second with 5.8.
Alonso is in a tight race with Arizona’s Christian Walker for most home runs by an NL first baseman, but Alonso stands a great chance to finish the year as the only player in his position group with 30 homers, a slugging percentage north of .500 and a strikeout rate under 20%. He’s already got the home run total, and with a .507 slugging percentage and 19.1 K%, we’re seeing Alonso become a more complete hitter right before our eyes. The strikeout percentage is at a career-low for him while his line drive percentage is at an all-time high.
This isn’t quite Bash Brothers 2.0, but the Mets should have a similarly charismatic duo in the middle of their order for years to come. To use one of Buck Showalter’s favorite phrases, both have been as advertised, and there’s no reason not to believe that both players will be wearing blue and orange for the rest of this decade. Lindor is already under contract until 2031, and while Alonso is still two seasons away from unrestricted free agency and the exorbitant salary he deserves, the Mets will almost surely come to him with a massive contract extension in the near future.
If the flashy shortstop, the fraternal group of starting pitchers, the transcendent closer and the rest of the Mets’ merry band of characters come together to win the whole thing, it will only entice the lovable galoot at first base to stick around even more.
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