The Boston Red Sox Andrew Benintendi finished second to the Yankees Aaron Judge for Rookie of the Year. Resurrecting the Sophomore of the Year Award the results could be different.
There is the well-known baseball ailment that has been designated by the CDC as “The Sophomore Jinx.” The Boston Red Sox have one so afflicted in Rafael Devers whose batting average continues to spiral in the wrong direction. But what about Sophomore of the Year?
Time for a brief resurrection of the award, at least for the American League. In 2017, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees was the unanimous choice with the Red Sox Andrew Benintendi finishing second. The consensus was prior to the start of the season that Benintendi was the clear favorite.
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This season there will be – at least with me as a baseball Judge Dredd (no relation to Aaron) – no unanimous selection. Judge is ahead of Benintendi, but the gap is closing faster than Secretariat smelling the finish line. Benintendi started slow but is now ablaze.
The highlight for Judge was a rather remarkable display of offensive futility with eight strikeouts in a doubleheader. An amazing accomplishment that set a record.
That said, Judge still remains a premier power hitter, but Benintendi is also making inroads into that niche. Benintendi – known as “Benny Biceps” – put on some offseason muscle and it has shown.
Judge has a fear quotient that exceeds Benintendi since just a careless mistake has severe consequences. Judge has saved his share of Yankee games with a dramatic impact – usually a tape measure blast. Benintendi is certainly no slouch in that department and has rescued the Red Sox on several occasions.
Judge is on a pace to hit 40+ home runs and is the better power hitter, but not the better hitter. Judge did hit .284 in 2017 and that eclipsed Benintendi’s .271, but this is 2018 and Benintendi will show what I firmly and ardently believe with all my biased and provincial heart – Benintendi is a better hitter.
Judge will beat out just about anyone not named King Kong with distance and exit velocity. Sexy, but the heading for 200+ strikeouts is not. That, however, is now minimized in baseball circa 2018 where K’s are more acceptable.
Speed is part of any baseball equation and Benintendi has that. Judge is certainly rather nimble and quick considering his physical stature, but Benintendi is far more capable of stealing a base. The downside is Benintendi’s penchant for running into outs. Stupidity or aggressiveness? Probably a mixture of both.
Both sophomore candidates are excellent fielders who do have an advantage playing positions in their home park that are quite compatible with reducing mistakes. I am tempted to state there is little to no difference in their defensive capabilities. Neither will win a Gold Glove, but both are solid and above average.
The metrics certainly give Judge an edge with the all-encompassing WAR giving Judge a splendid 3.0 fWar to Benintendi’s 2.6 fWAR. A sampling of others metrics shows an advantage for Judge: 161 wRC+ for Judge to Benintendi’s 145 wRC+. Similar edges happen in BABIP, ISO, and OPS. The gap has slowly closed.
The rest of the season for an eventual “winner” will be interesting especially in run production (runs scored and RBI) where they are in a virtual tie through 6/10. If Benintendi continues his trend regarding average and home runs you could have a player with a .300+ average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs and possibly 30 stolen bases. That happens he gets the nod.