On the eve of Opening Day, fans of the New York Mets got a surprise from new owner Steve Cohen. He and the team’s newly acquired star shortstop, Francisco Lindor, agreed to a $341 million contract that would keep Lindor in Queens until 2032. This sparked a new wave of optimism for the franchise and its fan base, both desperate for another championship run.

The optimism was short lived. One month into the season Lindor was batting .189 with one home run in 88 plate appearances, drawing boos from the home crowd. The struggles have continued through May and fans are still waiting for Lindor to produce. The 27-year-old perennial all-star is batting .198 with four home runs and a .595 OPS, creating runs at a rate that is 26 percent lower than the league after accounting for league and park effects.

Lindor is also making an out 76 percent of the time on balls in play in 2021, the fifth-worst among 146 qualified batters. For comparison, pitchers, as a whole, have produced the same out rate at the plate this season.

It is indisputable that Lindor is in a slump. The big concern for the Mets organization is that he’s been on this slide for three seasons now, which bodes poorly for their long-term investment.

Strikeouts aren’t to blame for the slide. His 16 percent strikeout rate has remained flat for the past four years, including 2021, and he is chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone than ever. Pitchers also haven’t changed their approach against him. Lindor is still seeing mostly fastballs with the same ratio of sliders, curveballs and change-ups as he did in previous years. We can also rule out the shift. Lindor sees a shift on 24 percent of his plate appearances as a left-handed hitter this season, more than half what it was in 2020, and 14 percent as a right-handed hitter, half as often as last season.

The problem is a lack of solid contact. Lindor simply isn’t hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the bat (also known as a barrel) as often. Instead, he is producing the lowest barrel rate of his career since his 2016 campaign.

Lindor is topping the ball more, leading to far fewer line drives and more groundballs, easily converted to outs.

The scary part of this slump for the Mets is that the root cause of Lindor’s struggles are that they aren’t a byproduct of bad bounces, hard outs or changes in pitchers’ approach to the once-feared slugger. Based on the exit velocity and launch angle on each ball in play, we would expect Lindor to be batting .217 with a .347 slugging average, barely worthy of a place in the starting lineup let alone one of the largest contracts in major league baseball. His expected weighted on-base average, which takes into account how a player reached base instead of simply considering whether a player reached base, would be a mere .294 instead of his actual wOBA of .258. While that seems like an improvement, the league average wOBA is .331. In other words, even if Lindor was getting the luck he deserved he would still be a below-average hitter this season.

Perhaps most concerning for the Mets is Lindor’s hitting profile — which includes how often players make solid contact, strikeout and walk. According to data from MLB, the hitters most statistically similar to Lindor in terms of hitting profile from last season are four players in their early or mid-thirties: Asdrúbal Cabrera, Christian Vazquez, Charlie Blackmon and teammate Kevin Pillar. That’s terrible news for New York considering Lindor doesn’t turn 28 years old until November. In other words, his ability at the plate is aging much faster than it should for a player supposedly in his prime.

Whether Lindor can reverse this trend remains to be seen, but there has been just one player, Chris Davis, from 2015 to 2020 who saw a decline in barrel rate for three straight seasons, while still qualifying for the batting title, and stopped the slide in Year 4. Davis’s drop off, however, was from 17 to 10 percent. The latter mark, however, is a higher barrel rate than Lindor at his peak.

That doesn’t mean Lindor can’t be productive, but we should temper our expectations for him both now and into the future. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection has already revised estimates for Lindor in 2021, dropping him from a projected slash line of .268/.335/.487 with 32 home runs, 88 RBI and 101 runs scored to .240/.319/.413 with 24 home runs, 67 RBI and 91 runs scored. If Lindor doesn’t turn things around soon, you can expect those numbers to drop even lower. And you can expect the boos at Citi Field to grow louder.

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