Boston Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi’s 2021 Key to Success

BOSTON, MA - JULY 15: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before an intrasquad game during a summer camp workout before the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season on July 15, 2020 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The season was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 15: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before an intrasquad game during a summer camp workout before the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season on July 15, 2020 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The season was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /
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If the Boston Red Sox want to find success in 2021, getting Andrew Benintendi back on track could be key.

The Boston Red Sox 2020 season was certainly not one for the record books. In the pandemic-shortened 60-game season Boston finished a mere 24-36, missing the playoffs and closing the book on a peculiar season.

A decline in production should have been expected after trading Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past offseason. Surely the losses of left-handed starters Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (myocarditis) aided in the lackluster performance as well.

With thin pitching depth and a thinner bullpen, Boston would need to count on its offense to carry the freight. While Boston’s bats were slightly above league average (106 wRC+), the new protocols regarding the video room took a toll on the production of slugger J.D. Martinez.

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Video has long played a vital part in Martinez’ success but the lack of access to it this season led to his worst offensive year to date, one in which he hit .213/.291/.385.

If Martinez looked lost at the plate then left fielder Andrew Benintendi was adrift at sea. Hitting .103/.314/.128 with 17 strikeouts over 14 games this season, he was placed on the Injured List with a ribs injury in August and did not play again in 2020.

The severity of Benintendi’s lack of production should not be downplayed, but it surely does not signify the end of the 26-year old’s career. Just two seasons ago, the 2015 first-round pick hit .290/.366/.465 as the starting left fielder for the 2018 World Series Champion Red Sox.

Benintendi’s offensive prowess has been exceptional since the start of his professional career. But over the last two seasons, his production at the plate has seen a decline. Arbitration eligible after the 2021 season, Benintendi will need to find the root of his struggles in order to return to the player he was two seasons ago.

What stood out for Benintendi in 2018 was his ability to hit offspeed pitches-specifically changeups. According to Brooks Baseball in 2018-Benintedni’s best year to date-the left fielder hit .356 against changeups while slugging .575 against them.

The following season, Benintendi would accrue a .188 batting average against changeups while his overall strikeout rate rose to 22.8%.

With his Whiff % increasing to 14.68% in 2019 and his SLG% dropping to .275, it appeared that Benintendi was falling victim to the overwhelming amount of power pitchers he was facing day in and day out.

That sounds likely, but a glance at his numbers against four-seam fastballs for his career would tell you that even with the pitching revolution overtaking today’s game, his numbers against fastballs are in line with his career trends.

However, being on-trend does not mean fastballs don’t play a role in the 26-year old’s struggles. If the dropoff in his production against changeups wasn’t so unique, it might appear more difficult for one to identify the root cause.

Since 2008, the average fastball velocity has increased nearly four miles per hour. That may not seem like a huge jump over the course of twelve years and that’s because it’s not. A third of a mile an hour increase each year is not going to jump off of paper at you.

However, there is a more telling metric that could better explain Benintendi’s struggles. According to Baseball Savant, in 2008, there were a total of 196 pitches thrown at least 100 MPH. In 2019, there were 1,056 pitches that were thrown over 100 MPH- more than a 500% increase over that span.

With changeups ever so often playing off of a pitcher’s fastball, it’s clear that Benintendi’s struggles against the pitch could partly be attributed to the velocity revolution.

With 100 MPH pitches being more common than ever, changeups hold an even bigger stock in a pitcher’s arsenal. That deception is utilized with one goal in mind – to beat the hitter.

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Benintendi was beaten this season. In a season that owns a special place in baseball history, some find it easier to overlook a lackluster performance. For the Boston Red Sox and Andrew Benintendi, the omission of his recent struggles could result in two more seasons of underperforming while garnering little to no interest in the trade market.