Andrew Benintendi had a rough 2019 – he started in the leadoff spot and ended the year hitting 5th or 6th. Where should the Red Sox hit him in 2020?
Alex Cora declared last offseason that in order to build upon the wildly successful 2018, Andrew Benintendi would hit leadoff in 2019, bumping Mookie Betts to the 2-hole. To say the least, Cora’s plan failed, along with the Boston Red Sox season.
Benintendi struggled for the first two months of the season, hitting .257 with six home runs and 24 RBI by the end of May. Not great for a leadoff hitter! With Benintendi’s continued struggles, a change had to be made. By the first game of June, Betts was hitting leadoff for the Red Sox once again.
At that point, the Red Sox were struggling mightily, 29-28, for a team with that kind of payroll and talent. Perhaps, going back to the 2018 way – Betts leadoff, Benintendi second – would light a spark that would allow the Red Sox to get back into postseason contention. As we all know, this didn’t change a thing.
While there was no formal announcement, by the end of June, Rafael Devers cemented himself as the number 2-man in the Red Sox lineup. Devers had a batting average well over .300, and Benintendi was struggling to get a hit every 4 at-bats. Xander Bogaerts was also bumped up to the 3-spot, JD Martinez batted cleanup, leaving Benintendi fifth in the order. Certain nights, Benintendi would even hit sixth with Michael Chavis moving up in the order.
So through the end of June, the Red Sox were struggling, along with Benintendi. There was still time in the season for both come July and the perfect chance came. The Red Sox had a 14-game stretch against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, both of whom were ahead of the Red Sox in the standings.
The stretch started off well, with the Red Sox winning 2-of-3 against the Rays, then the first 3 against the Yankees. However, disaster struck as the Red Sox went on to lose the next 8 ballgames. Benintendi was hot in that time, as he got 21 hits in 10 games. It seemed as if the old Benintendi was back.
However, after the July hot streak, Benintendi sunk back to mediocrity. He ended up closing the 2019 season with an OPS+ of 100 – league average. So after a mostly down 2019 season, where does that leave Benintendi going into 2020?
He can either go back to being an on-base, low strikeout machine at the top of Boston’s order. Or, he can be the average 2019 Benintendi and hit in the bottom half of the Red Sox lineup. With rumors around many Red Sox players on who’s staying and who will depart, lets go over a few possibilities.
Going into the 2020 season
Benintendi should get the benefit of the doubt and be given the opportunity to hit at the top of the order. The only problem is, bumping Betts, Devers, Bogaerts, or Martinez won’t be easy. Benintendi will have to prove that he can go back to his 2018 form.
The first step for Benintendi should be to generate more power and less strikeouts. That generally doesn’t happen with players as they sell out power for contact, but Benintendi has shown that he is capable of doing so. For example, 106 strikeouts and .465 slugging percentage, compared to 140 and .431.
He is capable of getting back to a top of the order player, but he will have to find his form once again. He was the Red Sox top prospect in 2016, and still has enormous potential. It would be a mistake to discount Benintendi as a dangerous bat come 2020.
If Mookie Betts is traded
If Betts is traded this winter, then Benintendi will have a lot of pressure to pick up the pace. Betts departing would mean that Benintendi would have to take over the leadoff spot. He has shown the ability, taking over leadoff for Betts in 2018 when he was hurt, and the first 2 months of 2019.
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The key as a leadoff hitter would be to strike out less, as already mentioned, and reaching base more. Benintendi walked less in 2019 than 2018 (58 to 79) and his batting average dipped almost 25 points (.290 to .266).
With a lineup consisting of Martinez, Bogaerts, and Devers, all Benintendi has to do is get on base and he will get driven in a lot. As a leadoff hitter, he wouldn’t have to sell out for power as his main goal is to get on for the heart of the order.
Also, stealing more bases would help out the Red Sox lineup. Devers has a much better chance of driving in a runner from second than first. Benintendi only stole 10 bases in 2019, a big dip from his 21 in 2018.
Overall, Benintendi can definitely be a quality leadoff hitter if Betts gets dealt to another team.
If JD Martinez is traded
If Martinez were somehow traded, then Benintendi could move back into the second spot in the order. Bogaerts would become the cleanup hitter and Devers would hit third.
This move would allow him to drive in Betts more often at the top of the order. Betts is an elite player and if he is still leading off for the Red Sox in 2020, there will be a lot of opportunity for the lefty to drive him in.
Betts got on base about 4 out of 10 times in 2019, and Benintendi will have to drive him in much like in 2018. Hitting for more power would help if he is hitting second as Betts will be able to score much more often.
Overall, Benintendi would have to hit for more power in 2020 in order to pick up what Martinez would leave behind if traded.
The former 2015 first round pick, Benintendi is still glistening with potential. He has the ability to be an MVP every year with his talent. With one of the cleanest swings in baseball, 2020 can be special for him.
The keys for Benintendi will be to reach base at a higher clip, hit for more power, and strike out less. That is a lot to ask of a player, but with someone as talented as he is, Benintendi can definitely put it together and post a monster 2020 season.