Red Sox leadoff hitter Andrew Benintendi thrives with runners on base
Andrew Benintendi is at his best when there are runners he can drive in, leaving us to wonder if the Boston Red Sox should keep him in the leadoff spot.
The best hitter in the Boston Red Sox lineup when there have been opportunities to drive in runs has been the one guy guaranteed to step to the plate at least once each game with the bases empty. That would be the leadoff man, Andrew Benintendi.
The 24-year old left fielder enters the day leading the majors with a whopping .524 batting average with runners in scoring position (minimum 25 plate appearances). Benintendi is 11-for-21 with four doubles, a triple, and a home run in those situations while ranking third in the majors with a 1.491 OPS.
He’s also coming through in clutch situations, going 7-for-14 (.500) with four extra-base hits and nine RBI with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Those base runners don’t necessarily need to be standing at second or third in order for Benny to be successful. He’s hitting .325 in 40 at-bats this season with runners on any base. Only J.D. Martinez (.370) and Mookie Betts (.341) have been better with runners on for this Red Sox lineup.
This type of production with runners on base may make you wonder what Benny is doing in the leadoff spot. That question is magnified by his struggles when the bases are empty. Benintendi is hitting .253 with a .714 OPS when there are no runners on base. Even worse, he’s hitting a mere .244 with a .666 OPS when leading off an inning – a spot he finds himself in at least once when he’s plugged into the top of the batting order.
This has historically been a role that Benintendi has had trouble with. He owns a .249 batting average in 312 plate appearances leading off an inning and a .184 average in 46 plate appearances leading off a game.
Alex Cora‘s decision this spring to swap Benny and Betts in the order was a bit controversial and these results aren’t helping the manager’s case. So, Cora needs to admit he was wrong and adjust by switching them back to the roles they both thrived in last year, right? Well, let’s pump the breaks on that.
The numbers show that Benny hasn’t been great with the bases empty or leading off an inning but we’re still dealing with a small sample size. Besides, it’s not as if he’s having a poor season. Benintendi’s .278/.351/.435 slash line is only slightly below his career rates. He’s still getting on base at a healthy clip, which is the most important aspect of a leadoff hitter’s job.
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No, Benintendi isn’t as great in the leadoff role as Betts has been. Few hitters are as good as Betts at anything, that’s why he’s the reigning MVP! It would be unfair to compare Benny to his more accomplished teammate.
Betts has started to heat up at the plate, proving that he’s just fine in his new spot in the lineup. There’s more pop in Betts’ bat than what Benny offers at this stage of his career, making Mookie better suited to be the one driving in runs. Betts has blasted 116 career home runs, only 41 of which have come with runners on base. He’s led off a game with a home run 16 times in his career. The swap at the top of the lineup is more about putting their best player in position to be a run producer than it is about Benny being the best man for the leadoff role.
Benintendi has all the tools to be a great leadoff hitter. He gets on base and he has the speed to swipe a base. He can crank out extra-base hits and has 20+ homer upside but not quite enough power where you feel that it’s being wasted at the top of the lineup. The elite ability he’s shown in the early going to hit with runners on base has been impressive but the Red Sox have a few All-Stars capable of doing that too. Someone has to lead off. Based on the makeup of this roster, Benny is the best option, at least for now.
The lack of results leading off an inning or when the bases are empty are a bit concerning and something to keep an eye on as the season progresses, yet it’s not an urgent sign that the Red Sox need to make a change.