Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Andrew Benintendi.
There weren’t a lot of bright spots on the Red Sox offense this year, and as we’ll get to a bit later, Benintendi wouldn’t be fair to qualify as a full-on success. That being said, for a guy in his first full season, it was a really solid year for the rookie. Most impressive about Benintendi is his approach at the plate. The lefty has incredible discipline for someone with his low experience level, and he utilizes his understanding of the strike zone to make plenty of contact while also drawing walks at an above-average rate. There are still improvements to be made, but there are a lot worse possible baselines than a guy who strikes out less than 20 percent of the time, walks more than ten percent of the time and drives the ball on a line to all fields on a consistent basis.
Sticking along the lines of things that are even more impressive when you remember Benintendi’s rookie status, the next positive was his ability to navigate his way out of slumps. We’ve seen time and again in this league that when a young hitter starts to struggle, it has a way of snowballing. Many times, particularly for a player of Benintendi’s talent and pedigree, these struggles can be the first extended slumps of a player’s life. They don’t know how to respond. Benintendi had some really bad stretches in 2017, and they put a damper on his overall line at the end of the year, but he always managed to hit his way out of it. That not only helped the team this year, as a consistently slumping Benintendi would have been a catastrophic drain on the lineup, but is an encouraging sign as we look forward to the next phase of his career.
Benintendi was also at his best when runners were on base in 2017. That was something of a theme for the offense as a whole, who managed to score enough to win games despite unimpressive overall production. (Just don’t ask them to hit with the bases loaded.) The rookie posted an OPS of just .697 with the bases empty this year, but upped that mark to .874 with runners on and to .960 with runners in scoring position.
His strengths weren’t limited to the batter's’ box, either. We all know the Red Sox were...hit-or-miss (to put it kindly) on the bases. Nobody personified that better than Benintendi. He wasn’t perfect on the bases, and we’ll get to that in a minute. He was a very good base stealer, though, swiping 20 bags in 25 tries. Additionally, he provided strong defense in left field and became more and more comfortable with the Monster as the year went on.
While 2017 was certainly a positive rookie year for Benintendi on the whole, it certainly wasn’t a season without negatives. Most notable, perhaps, was his relative lack of power. The lefty was never projected to be an elite home run hitter, and his 20 long balls wasn’t a bad total, all things considered. However, he was supposed to contribute a ton of doubles and triples, but he finished the year with just 26 doubles and one triple. That led to a disappointing Isolated Power of .154. His biggest issue was hitting too many balls on the ground. If he can get a bit more lift on a more consistent basis, he has an approach that will lead to plenty of balls shooting the gaps and dropping in for extra bases.
Benintendi also struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, and that could pose big problems for the team if he can’t turn it around. He is the kind of player they want on the field every day, but the .622 OPS and .054 ISO he posted against southpaws is untenable. The lack of power clearly stood out the most, and it was the result of hitting everything into the ground against left-handed pitching. If he doesn’t show some improvement in 2018, he may end up turning into a platoon player, and nobody wants that.
In addition to these two negatives, there were also a couple flip sides from positives above. For one thing, the ability to bounce back from slumps was great, but it also reflects on a lack of consistency. With the offense as questionable as it is right now, they could use a consistent producer at the top of the lineup. On top of that, while he was a great base stealer, he made a ton of really weird decisions on the bases. This is something that should get better as he gets more experience and learns the league a bit more, but we’ll all feel more comfortable when we see it happen.
The Big Question
I think the answer to this one has to be no, which says a lot about how much hype Benintendi had coming into the year. I got caught way up in it as well, at one point even predicting that he would be the most valuable player on the team. (That ended up being closer to true than I thought, but more because of other under performances.) He wasn’t a star in his first season in the majors, and there were some bumps along the road. In hindsight, we should have expected that. In the end, he was a slightly above-average hitter who finished the year as an average-to-slightly-above-average overall regular. We expected more, but it was a fine rookie year.
Looking ahead to 2018
As we look ahead to next season, as long as the Red Sox don’t trade Benintendi he should be among those from whom we’ll expect the biggest leap forward. He had a fine rookie season, but his eventual ceiling is much higher than that and he should start making strides towards that next year. Really, the addition of more extra-base hits to his repertoire, along with smarter baserunning, would be enough to put his value at the next level. Look for Benintendi to possibly push for an All-Star appearance in 2018.