Red Sox Predictions: Andrew Benintendi poised for career year
By Sean Penney
Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi had a down year in 2019 but there’s encouraging evidence to suggest a bounce-back season is coming.
Few hitters in the Boston Red Sox lineup are more eager to put last season behind them than Andrew Benintendi. While a few of the other young hitters on the club emerged with breakout seasons, Benny was trending in the wrong direction. He’ll have an opportunity for redemption when a new season eventually gets underway and a deeper drive into last year’s production shows some positive signs foreshadowing a bounce-back campaign.
Benintendi’s production fell across the board last season, hitting career lows with a .266 average, .343 OBP, and .774 OPS. After establishing himself as a 20/20 threat as a rookie and nearly replicating the accomplishment the following season, Benintendi tallied only 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases last year.
A 123 OPS+ and 4.5 WAR made Benintendi a borderline All-Star candidate in 2018 but last year he was merely average with a 100 OPS+ and 1.8 WAR.
Despite the overall dip in production, there were some encouraging elements that we can mine from last year’s Statcast data. Benintendi set career-highs with an 8.1 Barrel Percentage, 40.1 Sweet Spot Percentage, .461 XSLG, and 37.7 Hard Hit Percentage, per Baseball Savant. Each of those figures was well above league average.
He was hitting the ball as well as ever but Benintendi’s biggest issue was that he wasn’t hitting it enough. His 22.8 strikeout percentage was the highest of his career and a significant leap from the 16.0 K% he posted the previous season.
Plate discipline had always been one of Benintendi’s strong suits. His career 18.7 K% and 10.2 BB% are both better than league average, implying that last year’s decline is an outlier. He started chasing pitches more often, likely out of frustration when he fell in a slump. The good news is that this doesn’t indicate an erosion of skill. Benintendi simply needs to make some adjustments to regain his previously stellar pitch selection.
Last year also saw Benintendi improve against left-handed pitching. Southpaws had been a problem in his early years and his career .247/.327/.369 line against them put him on the verge of being a liability. That changed last season when he improved to .269/.358/.438 against lefties. That’s actually better than he hit against right-handed pitching (.265/.336/.248).
The Red Sox signed Kevin Pillar to provide a right-handed bat to supplement their starting trio of lefty outfielders. He may end up platooning in center field with Jackie Bradley Jr. but Pillar could be a threat to steal playing time from Benny if he isn’t hitting lefties.
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That shouldn’t be a concern based on how he fared last year. If Benintendi can return to form against right-handed pitching while maintaining last year’s improvement against lefties, his slash line numbers are bound to leap to career-high levels.
While he didn’t miss significant time last year, Benny dealt with a variety of nagging injuries that hindered his performance. He also bulked up considerably prior to the season. Putting on weight may have helped Benny Biceps hit the ball harder but it also could have slowed his swing and thrown off his timing. He’s healthy now and appeared slimmer when he arrived in camp this spring.
Benintendi looked good this spring, hitting .286 with an .824 OPS a double and a home run in 21 at-bats. He failed in the leadoff role last year but Benny claims those struggles were a fluke. He’s proven capable of thriving at the top of the batting order in previous seasons and looked good in that spot in the brief sample this spring.
We still have no idea when the 2020 season will begin but when it eventually gets underway, we can expect much better production from Benintendi than we saw from him last year.