Red Sox: Selling low on Andrew Benintendi would be a mistake

BOSTON, MA - JULY 30: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox returns to the dugout after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 30, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 30: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox returns to the dugout after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 30, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox shouldn’t consider selling low on Andrew Benintendi

The fall from grace has been steep for Andrew Benintendi. It wasn’t long ago that the young Boston Red Sox outfielder appeared destined for stardom but his stock has plummeted in the wake of a miserable season that has turned him into a pariah in this city.

The runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award made a strong impression in his first full major league season in 2017 with a 20/20 campaign that flashed his five-tool skill set. He followed that by raising his batting average to .290 to go along with an .830 OPS and he was a finalist for the Gold Glove award at his position.

The 2019 season was a step back for Benintendi. His strikeout and walk rates were trending in the wrong direction, resulting in his batting average dropping to .266 while his OPS dipped to .774. After swiping 20+ bases in each of the previous two seasons, Benny stole only 10 that season. Instead of being among the best left fielders in the league, he rated below average with -2 defensive runs saved.

Despite the disappointing production, Benintendi remained a serviceable starting outfielder that season but the bottom fell out in 2020. Benny hit a pitiful .103 with a .442 OPS in 14 games before a season-ending rib injury put him out of his misery.

His dismal performance in a lost season has led many fans to turn on Benintendi. The former fan-favorite is now on the verge of being chased on of town by villagers carrying pitchforks. Some are calling for the Red Sox to trade him in order to free up a roster spot to sign a flashy free-agent to take his place.

The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier recently spoke to several evaluators and scouts around the league who provided some insight on Benintendi’s limited value on the trade market.

"“I think his trade value is pretty limited at this point,” said one evaluator. “[A] willingness [by the Red Sox] to sell at this low point of value would suggest that the people who know him the best don’t see a dead cat bounce coming, which would give me a lot of pause, because every metric is pointing down.“He’s young enough that it seems unlikely that he should be toast as a player, but I wouldn’t want to bet heavily that he’s going to turn into a good player again.”"

If the Red Sox traded Benintendi they wouldn’t get much in return. They would essentially be dumping him for anything they could get simply to wash their hands of him and move on. Trading a once-prized player when his value is at its lowest point would be horrible misuse of an asset. The basic laws of economics dictate that you don’t sell low unless you’ve lost hope in that asset regaining value.

As frustrating as Benintendi has been over the last two years, he’s not hopeless. He’s only 26 years old, a point where he should be thriving at his peak. This is a former first-round pick who scouts graded with an “80”  as a hitter on the 20-80 scale while projecting him to be an extra-base hitting machine. His sweet, compact swing was supposed to deliver multiple batting titles.

Players with that skill set don’t suddenly have their careers go off the rails to the point of no return unless it’s injury related.  The rib injury cost him the majority of this year’s shortened season but it’s not a long-term concern that should hinder him moving forward.

Speier’s article pointed to a number of red flags that might lead us to be pessimistic that a bounce-back season is coming. However, identifying those concerns is the first step toward correcting his issues.

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One major issue was his declining ability to catch up with fastballs. After slugging .477 against fastballs in 2017 while swinging and missing at only 15.1 percent of those pitches, Benintendi’s slugging has dipped in every subsequent season against the fastball while his swing-and-miss rate has climbed.

He’s also using the opposite field less with a career-low 21.7 Oppo% this year. Instead of flicking the ball to left field for an easy Fenway double off the Green Monster, Benintendi developed a habit of trying to pull the ball too much, which often ended with him rolling over the pitch for a harmless ground ball.

The latter concern is a mechanical issue that can be resolved. Benintendi needs to regain the mentality of hitting the ball to all fields the way he used to and knowing when he can take advantage of the inviting wall in shallow left field at his home ballpark. I’m not suggesting that’s easy to do but it’s certainly feasible.

The former concern with hitting fastballs relates to his bat speed which might tie into another red flag – his overall loss of speed. When he debuted in 2016, Statcast measured his average sprint speed at an elite 28.6 feet per second, which ranked in the 89th percentile. Benintendi’s sprint speed has since declined to 26.6 in 2020. Granted, this year was a very small sample size but his steady regression since he came into the league is a concern for a player who is still relatively young.

The loss of speed isn’t just about stealing bases. If he’s not running as well as he did in previous seasons, that may explain his declining defensive skills. Evaluators no longer view Benintendi as a viable center fielder, the position he played in college and in the minors, and his deteriorating defensive skills make some question if he can even be an average left fielder.

Sprint speed doesn’t directly correlate to bat speed but it stands to reason that the issue sapping his speed in the field and on the bases might also be slowing his bat.

I believe that Benintendi’s declining speed stems from his desire to bulk up. We all remember the video of him doing curls with ropes that had heavy chains dangling from them. Fans were excited about Benny Biceps developing into a 30-home run hitter.

Except that Benny was never supposed to be that type of hitter. He wanted to be because – let’s face it – power hitters get paid. But bulking up came at a cost. The added weight slowed him down, hampering parts of his game that were once elite. Instead of peppering the Green Monster or hitting lasers into the gap, Benny was swinging for the fences. That backfired when the declining bat speed reduced his ability to catch up with fastballs. The added muscle actually led to fewer home runs as a result.

There are a number of problems that Benintendi needs to correct in order to regain his previous form but it starts with remembering the type of player he was meant to be. He’s not a 30+ homer slugger, he’s a sweet-swinging doubles machine capable of delivering 20/20 seasons.

Altering his workout routine and diet to make his body leaner could help restore his lost speed. He’s too young to have lost it for age-related reasons so the extra muscle must be to blame. Abandoning the pull-happy approach to slap outside pitches to the opposite field is a mental adjustment that he needs to focus on.

These are correctable problems that conceivably could allow Benny to become the player we expected him to be. There’s too much upside in a player with his skill set to give up on him when he’s still too young to have fallen off a cliff.

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Many have written off Benintendi and there are enough red flags to worry that he’ll never recover but it would be foolish to sell at his low point when you’ll get nothing in return. The Red Sox may eventually part ways with Benintendi but give him a chance to restore some value so that he can bring back a useful piece rather than dump him for a bag of baseballs.