Cleveland Indians: The Hindsight of Not Calling Up Francisco Lindor for Opening Day


What if Lindor had been the Opening Day shortstop?

For the first time this season, there is enough momentum behind the Cleveland Indians that talk of a playoff run does not seem ridiculous. The weekend sweep over another playoff contender was more than just a sweep. The Indians looked better than the Angels, a team with approximately double the payroll, in every way. At that time, they pulled to within a game and a half of the Angels and 3 1/2 behind the Twins, who they play seven more times before the end of the season. It will still require some luck to make up the four games between them and the Rangers for the last playoff spot, but a lot less luck than it would have a week or two ago. If the Indians get the pitching of the last six games for the remainder of the season, anything is possible.

Of course, if you’re like any other Cleveland fan on the planet, you’ve probably got a lot of what ifs going through your mind right now. You know, like what if Mike Hargrove has used Mike Jackson in the ninth inning. Or what if Kelly Olynyk was a little more graceful? Or what if John Elway had decided to play baseball? Most of those thoughts aren’t really worthwhile, because if the what if changes so many other things change that the final result would be nothing like what you are thinking about.

But here’s a what if that would almost certainly have affected the outcome: what if Francisco Lindor had been the opening day shortstop? Lindor is currently having such an impact on the team and building so much hope for the future that it’s easy to forget that it was decided just five months ago that he wasn’t ready for the majors.

To be honest, that may have been the case – it’s certainly not out of the question that the 59 games he played for Columbus made the difference between utter failure and the spectacular success he has actually enjoyed.  Maybe it was the best for the long-term well-being of the franchise – not even factoring in the long-term financial aspects of the decision, which may or may not have been the actual reason it happened.

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But here’s a fact: in just 68 games Lindor has posted a total WAR of 2.77, according to ESPN. If you extrapolate that number over the entire season it increases to 5.29. That basically means that the 62 games Lindor has missed this season have cost the Indians 2.5 wins. That may not sound like a lot, but how much differently would you feel right now if the Indians’ deficit were half as big as it is right now?  How will you feel on October first if they are a game or two out of the playoffs?

It’s even worse than that. WAR is intended to portray how much advantage a player provides over a replacement level player, but when the Indians decided to leave Lindor in the minors they did not replace him with a replacement-level player. Jose Ramirez posted a WAR of -0.3 over the first two months of the season, a number which, if anything, badly understates how poorly he played. As Ramirez became more and more hopeless, his playing time went, not to Lindor, but to Mike Aviles, who has been one of the least effective offensive players in baseball this year. So if anything, Lindor’s WAR figure understates how much his absence hurt the Indians this year.

Now, you can poke holes in this argument as much as you want. Lindor might well have struggled somewhat at the start if he had been on the major league roster in April. You can even argue about the correlation between WAR and actual wins. But it seems like the history of the season is being written as though there was no choice but to have Lindor spend forty percent of the season in Columbus, and that his success over the past month is a direct result of the time in Columbus, despite the fact that most of the analysis we read in spring training said that Lindor looked like he was ready.

Instead, a choice was made in spring training to go with Ramirez, then they doubled down on that decision as Ramirez spent two months looking up at down. Of the many things that could have gone better this season, that choice seems like the most preventable.

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