An integral cog for the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi has seen his stock plummet after continuing last season’s woes in 2020.
As of Sunday night, the left fielder has struggled mightily in the short season. In 47 plate appearances, the 2015 first-round pick has limped to a .056/.261/.083 triple-slash.
Benintendi has just two hits on the young season, one bunt single and one bloop double that bounced out of play, and he doesn’t seem to be striking the ball well on his outs either; he only has one line drive this season. All three of these batted balls came in July.
To this point in August, the University of Arkansas standout has 15 at-bats with eight strikeouts and three walks. Again, he has no hits and no line drives yet in August.
All told, the youngster has racked up 10 walks to 16 strikeouts in 2020, which represents roughly 55% of his plate appearances this season. Out of context, the number of walks is comforting, but when combined with the 34% strikeout rate, all of a sudden a disturbing trend emerges… Benintendi is not putting the ball in play, and when he is, he’s not hitting the ball well.
The lefty hitter, usually known for hitting for a high average with a healthy serving of line drives, is failing to do both thus far in 2020. His batted ball data tells the story; the 26-year-old carries an average exit velocity of 85.3 mph this season, which ranks 216th out of 263 qualified hitters, and his meek 2.2% Barrels/PA rate ranks 197th. For comparison, when he hit .290 with 16 home runs back in 2018, Benintendi still had a relatively low Barrels/PA rate of 4.7%, which was good for 128th out of 249 qualified hitters and more than double his 2020 mark.
So what exactly has been going wrong for the former top prospect? Let’s start back in September 2019 with the last 19 games of the season.
In the final weeks of last season, the seemingly-studly hitter struggled mightily. Benintendi hit .141 with two doubles and a home run while striking out 13 times and walking 8 times in those 74 plate appearances to end the season.
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Compare those numbers to what he’s done to this point in 2020, and they line up quite well, at least on the surface. Struggling to hit for power or average while walking and striking out more often than putting a ball in play is not a recipe for success, and usually, it’s not Benintendi’s regular M.O. either. His K+BB% didn’t even hit 22% in the final weeks of 2019, which is less than half of the 55% mark he’s put up in 2020.
So ultimately, the struggles from late last season have not perfectly carried over to this season, though the overall production is similarly lackluster. But even at the end of last season, Benintendi still had a hard-contact% of 50% with a 23.1% line-drive rate. In 2020, he’s been far worse, with a feeble hard-contact% of 25% and a 5.6% line-drive rate.
As of August 8, Benintendi has only hit five balls in play and only two over 100 mph; one was a 100.8 mph fly out that traveled 400 feet and probably would have left the yard at most parks, the other was a 103.4 mph ground out. Obviously, neither ended up dropping for a hit, but even these batted balls don’t explain away the lackluster performance as bad luck. Statcast has Benintendi’s expected batting average in the bottom 2% of the league and expected slugging percentage in the bottom 6% of the league, which is reflected in his actual numbers.
Benintendi signed avoided arbitration with a 2-year, $10 million deal before Spring Training this season, a deal that felt like a steal at the time, and now looks like a relatively minor loss for the Red Sox. In order for the team to receive a solid return-on-investment with Benintendi, they’ll need to transform him back into his 2017 and 2018 versions, where he threatened to be a perennial 20-20 player who could hit around .300.
To get back to that form, Benintendi will need to start putting the ball in play again with some conviction and taking advantage of his previously-solid plate skills and speed. Since 2016, Benintendi has never had a BABIP under .301 and generally has preferred to make defenses work to get him out rather than walking or punching out. He’ll need to bring himself back into a line-drive heavy mindset as opposed to the strikeout, walk, or groundout rut he’s found himself in 2020.
Is there a simple mechanical fix? Is it all in his head? Is it a combination of bad luck and sub-par skills? At this point, there does not seem to be a complete answer I could give you. But for now, all Red Sox fans can do is sit back and wait until Benintendi either finds a way to shift his approach or finds himself riding the pine.