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Lindor, Ramirez shattering power standards

Indians infielders setting a historic homer pace
MLB.com @castrovince

CLEVELAND -- It shouldn't catch Ty Van Burkleo off guard, but it does. The Indians' hitting coach is around Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor every day. He's with them in the cages. Van Burkleo helps them put together a plan at the plate and looks at the video and the data. And every night, when Lindor strides and when Ramirez struts up to that five-sided slab they call home, he's immersed in the magic they make.

And yet, when the scoreboard occasionally flashes a listing of the Major League home run leaders, Van Burkleo is still amazed.

CLEVELAND -- It shouldn't catch Ty Van Burkleo off guard, but it does. The Indians' hitting coach is around Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor every day. He's with them in the cages. Van Burkleo helps them put together a plan at the plate and looks at the video and the data. And every night, when Lindor strides and when Ramirez struts up to that five-sided slab they call home, he's immersed in the magic they make.

And yet, when the scoreboard occasionally flashes a listing of the Major League home run leaders, Van Burkleo is still amazed.

"It's these big, giant guys," he says, "and Hosey and Frankie."

The biggest, most gigantic guys arrive to Progressive Field on Thursday, when the Yankees roll into town.

Remember how we spent all offseason salivating over the possibilities presented by Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge in the same loaded lineup? Remember the trivia we unearthed about the game's top all-time homer-hitting teammates? (Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, for the record, still safely possess the single-season mark with 115 in 1961.) Remember how Stanton said he felt "sorry for the baseballs"?

Those were fun, fruitful conversations. And Stanton and Judge are, indeed, a prominent pair, as promised.

Video: CIN@CLE: Lindor's 25th homer gives Indians 17-0 lead

But here we are, headed into this Yankees-Indians showdown and roaring toward the All-Star break, and the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Lindor and the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Ramirez are somehow keeping pace with those giants. The current homer tally is as follows: Ramirez, 27; Judge, 25; Lindor, 25; and Stanton, 22.

Little Guys 52, Big Guys 47

When you ask Lindor about all this, he shrugs.

"I'm not a power hitter," Lindor says. "And Hosey's not a power hitter, either."

Lindor's contention is that he and Ramirez, both of whom are headed to next week's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, are good hitters who happen to be hitting for power.

The distinction has merit in an increasingly all-or-nothing sport.

You've probably noticed the league-wide homer rate (one every 29.9 at-bats) is absurd again this season, even if it's just a tick or two off last year's record-setting pace. The ball, we know, carries further than it did before, and so the appetizing tallies being posted by Lindor and Ramirez comes with a dash of salt.

But of course, the strikeout rate (one every 4.48 plate appearances) is even more absurd than the homer rate. And that's part of what makes the switch-hitting Lindor and Ramirez so special.

In a league with an average contact rate of 77 percent, per FanGraphs, Lindor is at 81.6 percent and Ramirez is at 87. Whereas Stanton (65.7) and Judge (66.6) are more in the mold of the big swings and big misses that are illustrative of the era, Lindor and Ramirez are oddities in the game's K climate.

"It's not a Dave Kingman-type of power hitter, your classic power hitter that has a lot of strikeouts and warts on top of it," Van Burkleo says. "They're really good hitters, efficient hitters. They both have very good swings. They hit the ball on the barrel consistently, and when you do that, you end up finding out how much power you have."

Video: Must C Crushed: Ramirez goes yard twice vs. Reds

Through Wednesday's games, there are 18 players in the Majors with at least 20 home runs, but only five of those players are striking out in less than 17 percent of their plate appearances.

Ramirez: 27 HR, 11.2 K percentage (eighth best in the Majors)
Lindor: 25 HR, 16.9 K percentage
Manny Machado: 23 HR, 12.8 K percentage
Mookie Betts: 22 HR, 12.2 K percentage
Ozzie Albies: 20 HR, 15.7 K percentage

So Lindor and Ramirez are two special hitters, made all the more special by the fact that they happen to be separated by a single lineup spot (which just so happens to be occupied by another elite contact hitter in Michael Brantley). They've had 10 games in which they've both homered, the most of any Major League combo this year.

But what really sets Lindor and Ramirez apart is their positioning on the field.

Only four times in history, per Baseball Reference's Play Index, have a pair of teammates manning third base and shortstop at least 50 percent of the time hit at least 30 homers apiece in a single season:

Eric Chavez (32) and Miguel Tejada (31), 2001 A's
Chavez (34) and Tejada (34), 2002 A's
Mark Reynolds (37) and J.J. Hardy (30), 2011 Orioles
Evan Longoria (36) and Brad Miller (30), 2016 Rays

Ramirez and Lindor have almost put themselves on that list, and we're not even to the All-Star break yet. By year's end, they more than likely will have created their own list as the only 35-homer third base/shortstop combo. And they could become just the eighth infield combo to hit 40 apiece, joining these guys…

Johnny Bench (45) and Tony Perez (40), 1970 Reds
Darrell Evans (41) and Davey Johnson (43), 1973 Braves
Vinny Castilla (40) and Andres Galarraga (47), 1996 Rockies
Castilla (40) and Galarraga (41), 1997 Rockies
Tony Batista (41) and Carlos Delgado (41), 2000 Blue Jays
Rafael Palmeiro (47) and Alex Rodriguez (52), 2001 Rangers
Palmeiro (43) and Rodriguez (57), 2002 Rangers

Firmly affix a tin-foil hat on anybody who says they saw this coming, because the debate over whether Ramirez and Lindor are "power hitters" wasn't even remotely on the radar when they were coming up (heck, as recently as Spring Training 2016, Ramirez wasn't even on the radar as a viable everyday player, but his awesome origin story is another topic for another time).

Look at the path their number of at-bats between home runs has taken in their pro careers, including the Minors…

2012: Lindor 81.7, Ramirez 108.7
2013: Lindor 201.5, Ramirez 164.7
2014: Lindor 46.1, Ramirez 68.9
2015: Lindor 44.2, Ramirez 69.9
2016: Lindor 40.3, Ramirez 51.4
2017: Lindor 19.7, Ramirez 20.2
2018: Lindor 14.9, Ramirez 12.8

That's pretty crazy. But this entire column has been an effort to brace you for the craziest stat of all.

Are you ready? I don't really believe you when you say you're ready, but here goes…

Tweet from @castrovince: Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are both on pace for 90+ extra-base hits (they have 52 apiece) in 2018. Here is the complete list of teammates to have 90+ XBH in the same season:*Babe Ruth (97) and Lou Gehrig (117), 1927 YankeesThat's the list.👀 @Indians @MLB

Yeah, two other Yankee giants. That's the company Lindor and Ramirez, both of whom rank in the top four in B-Ref's Wins Above Replacement stat, have put themselves in right now.

Obviously, their historical stature is nowhere near that of Ruth and Gehrig. And obviously, their physical stature is nowhere near that of Stanton and Judge. But we're witnessing heroic, historic stuff from the left-hand side of the Indians' infield in this 2018 season.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

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