Red Sox throw-down: Carl Yastrzemski vs Andrew Benintendi

BOSTON, MA - MAY 26: Carl Yastrzemski acknowledges the crowd during the retirement ceremony for Wade Boggs' uniform number 26 prior to the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park on May 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 26: Carl Yastrzemski acknowledges the crowd during the retirement ceremony for Wade Boggs' uniform number 26 prior to the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park on May 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Fifty years ago was the turnaround for the Boston Red Sox with the remarkable 1967 season. Just how do the players of today compare? A look at Andrew Benintendi versus Carl Yastrzemski.

This will certainly not focus on the Carl Yastrzemski of 1967 who produced one of the most remarkable all around performances in baseball history.  The 27-year-old Yaz – the oldest starter among position players in 1967  – won the Triple-Crown and mysteriously was not a unanimous choice for Most Valuable Player as one writer choose Cesar Tovar.

This will be the Yastrzemski of 1961 – his rookie season – and the Andrew Benintendi of 2017 – his rookie season.  Both played left field, both were left-handed hitters and both were expected to be honored with a Rookie of the Year Award – I even wrote a prediction about Benintendi getting ROY. Both also disappointed.

I had the privilege of attending Opening Day at Fenway Park in 1961. Yastrzemski had one hit – a single to left field – in five at-bats. Yastrzemski also made a nice throw home to cut down a runner.  This would become a trademark play for the future Yastrzemski – a former infielder – who was adept at charging the ball and having a strong and accurate throw home. At Fenway Park, a second to home would be a test for even a skilled and speedy base runner.

Yastrzemski’s 1961 season was not remarkable defensively and according to metrics, he ranked third among qualified players. By 1963 the first of many Gold Gloves did arrive, but in 1961 Yastrzemski was considered good – not great.

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Benintendi is simply not as refined defensively as the Yastrzemski of 1961. Maybe some can be attributed to his natural position being center field? The metrics show a -2.0 UZR/150 and a fourth place ranking among American League left fielders.  Benintendi’s arm does not, nor will it have the fire power and accuracy that Yastrzemski demonstrated in 1961 and throughout his career. A clear edge for Yastrzemski on fielding.

Yastrzemski had hit .339 at the Red Sox farm club in Minneapolis in 1960.  The previous year his minor league average was .377,  so – like Benintendi – his advancement was rapid arriving as a 21-year-old. That first season Yastrzemski hit just .266 with only 11 home runs, but did have 80 RBI for a team that finished sixth winning 76 games. Benintendi already has 12 home runs and may eventually top 80 RBI.

Two things in common with both is hitting against left-handed pitching.  Yastrzemski hit .236 and Benintendi is hitting .237.  The Red Sox of 1961 were going nowhere so Yaz would play, but Benintendi hits the bench often when a lefty takes the hill.  One thing they don’t have in common is hitting with runners in scoring position. Yastrzemski hit .276 and for Benintendi, the figure is .346. If you drool over WAR the Yastrzemski of 1961 posted an fWAR of 0.2. Benintendi is 1.2.

Advanced metrics and even traditional caught my attention with Benintendi’s 10.7 BB% compared to Yastrzemski’s 7.8 BB%. Yastrzemski had either not refined his pitch recognition or the Red Sox had little in the way of hitting threats, so just throw to the kid. The Red Sox ranked seventh among ten American League teams offensively. Other metrics such as ISO, wOBA, and wRC+ give a slight edge to Benintendi.

Another aspect of the game is base running. In 1961 Yastrzemski stole six bases in 11 attempts. That would be in line with his eventual career numbers. Benintendi  simply is a faster runner who can steal more frequently.  What sets them apart, however, is base running intelligence. A far too typical game happened against the White Sox on August 3 when Benintendi ran into not one but two outs. So far Benintendi has run into 10 outs this season.  Run killers that a sagging offense does not need. Aggressiveness is fine, but stupidity is not. Clear advantage to Yastrzemski.

Circumstance also comes into the equation in this throw done.  Yastrzemski was the replacement for the legendary Ted Williams and that has added pressure, but Benintendi is in the middle of a ferocious pennant race. Yastrzemski and the Red Sox were clearly defined by early August and were going nowhere.

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Yastrzemski has a decided edge defensively with his arm strength and accuracy. Both are capable of closing gaps in the outfield, but Yaz would have – in my opinion – saved a bushel of runs if that statistic was kept. Then comes the base running and finally the offense.

Yastrzemski was a better decision maker on the base paths and was not a conservative runner – but not reckless. Benintendi certainly has had some moments of base running that put pressure on the defense, but that is tempered with bonehead plays that should have been vaporized in little league.

Hitting is a clear advantage for Benintendi who has shown more power and surprisingly more patients. Then toss in the RISP in a situation when first place and not sixth place is in the balance and you have a plus.

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Based on my fogged memory, statistical information and the ever important situation for both I would give the edge – very slight – to Benintendi of 2017 over the Yastrzemski of 1961. If Benintendi follows Yastrzemski’s path we may have him as batting champion in 2019.