Things are bad for the Red Sox right now. Well, relatively bad. Obviously, they aren’t bad when you consider the really bad things in the world, but that’s a given. Really, it’s not even all that bad when you consider where they were in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Remember those years? At this point in those seasons, the team was already out of it, and watching them on a daily basis was literally pointless.
With that being said, the frustration around the team right now is palpable and understandable. They are in a long process of taking one step forward and two steps back, and they are rarely having games in which every part of the team is clicking at once. There are still some fun parts, though, and one of them is Andrew Benintendi. The outfielder isn’t the most talented player on the team, of course. He’s not even the top prospect in the system. He is, however, the hottest new thing, and we’ve been anticipating a possible call-up since he tore up the minors in his first professional season.
In true 2016 Red Sox fashion, though, not everything around his promotion has been excitement. While everyone is excited that he is one the team and Brock Holt can return to his super utility role, the rookie’s playing time has some scratching his head. You see, Benintendi is being platooned with Bryce Brentz to start his major-league career, sitting whenever a lefty starts a game.
Now, you can tell from the headline that I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as most, but I will one thing first. To start, I very much understand the frustration. Benintendi is incredibly talented and he’s the best option, in a vacuum, for left field every single night. That a team who is struggling to put together any sort of string of positives right now isn’t constantly putting their best product on the field is certainly annoying. I get it, and I might even agree, to a smaller extent.
With that caveat out of the way, I would also say it’s not as big of a deal as many are making it out to be. It’s a bit more noticeable right now because they were in the middle of a weird stretch with a bunch of left-handed starters on the mound, but normally this sort of set-up allows for the player in Benintendi’s position to play roughly three-quarters of the time. Even if we assume Brentz will play one-third of the time in this situation, the chances of him having a huge impact in that time are small. Now, I know the counter to this is that every game counts at this point of the season and it’s completely fair. I’m just not 100 percent sold that it outweighs the other parts of this.
To start with, and most importantly, this is almost entirely about keeping Benintendi fresh for his entire full season. It’s easy to forget after watching the same kind of season year after year, but the baseball schedule is an absolute grind. One hundred sixty two is a stupidly large number of games. Last season, he played 119 games in a season ending in early September. Even that’s a lot of games. Right now, he’s up to 102 games in 2016, and if everything goes according to plan he’ll be playing well into October. Even if everything doesn’t go according to plan, he’ll be playing an extra three weeks on top of what he did last year.
It’s really easy to see a player in Benintendi’s position wearing down in that kind of environment. Even if baseball doesn’t require the same kind of athleticism as sports like football and basketball, it is incredible tiring doing it all day every day for months on months on months. The plan in the organization is for Benintendi to not only contribute for years to come, but to be a main contributor if and when the team makes the postseason. In order for that to happen, he needs to be something resembling fresh, so sitting him here and there makes sense.
There is also the part where Chris Young is going to return soon, and they basically have to play him against lefties when he is healthy. That’s the entire reason he’s here, and he’s really good in that role. So, even in Benintendi is clearly the better option over Brentz, he won’t be over Young. With that consideration, it makes sense to A) get him used to his kind of role right away and B) not be forced to essentially demote him weeks into his major-league career. Even I’m not entirely sure I buy that line of thought, but I find it difficult to completely dismiss without know exactly how things work in that clubhouse.
Now, it is worth mentioning that Benintendi has been better against lefties than against righties at both levels he competed against in 2016. While that’s sort of damning to this strategy, we’re also A) talking about small samples and B) talking about non-major league pitchers. I’m not entirely sold on those numbers, is what I’m saying.
Everything about the Red Sox right now is frustrating, and they’ve managed to extend that to the promotion of one of their top prospects. As I said above, I understand the frustration and I’m still not entirely sure I disagree with it. With that being said, the decision to platoon Benintendi does make some sense, especially when you consider that he hasn’t experienced this kind of grind and one would like him to be somewhat fresh in late September and October. With so many other things going on, I’m not sure this is the part of the team to be so frustrated with.