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Andrew Benintendi is making the right adjustments

Checking in on the latest ebb in the rookie’s season.

Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Red Sox have been playing some pretty damn good baseball in the month of August. They’ve put themselves in first place in the American League East and have, for the most part, taken care of business in the big series against their biggest competitors. It’s been a phenomenal month and has most of us feeling pretty good about what this Boston team can do when the lights shine brightest. The starting pitchers deserve the most credit for this run, with Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz being particularly impressive. The offense has been really good too, though, because a rotating cast of players who have stepped up. One hitter in particular has stepped up this month, though.

Andrew Benintendi entered August coming off his worst month of the season and just in a bad way in general. In fact, almost exactly one month ago I wrote about Benintendi’s struggles in July. As I mentioned in the linked post, this is the kind of roller coaster season we generally expect from rookies. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and pitchers are always going to eventually figure out young hitters. Unless your name is Mike Trout, you are going to go through some rough patches in your career. The difference between the good players and the mediocre ones is whether or not you can make an adjustment on the fly and get back into a good way. Fortunately, Benintendi has done that and then some in the month of August.

St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

First, the numbers. August has been very kind to the Red Sox left fielder. Through 82 plate appearances in the month, the rookie has hit .361/.427/.667 fora 179 wRC+, putting him at 79 percent better than the league-average hitter. That is a whopping 110 point improvement over his production in July. Even better, he’s improved upon all of the areas in which he was struggling in July. Let’s go one-by-one through the areas I mentioned in the post linked above and see how he’s adjusted in the month of August.

We’ll start with the strikeouts. Benintendi is the prototypical modern-day Red Sox player, as he relies heavily on putting the balls in play. When he’s at his best, he is rarely striking out and bucking the trend of K’s throughout the league. That did not quite work out in July, as his strikeout rate ballooned up to 22 percent. He’s cut way down on that in August, with his 13 percent strikeout rate being his lowest single-month rate of the entire season. If you look at the 20-game rolling graph below, you’ll notice how much his strikeout rate has really fallen off of late. The peak of the draft around game 90 is the point at which I wrote the previous post.

One of the big reasons he began striking out so much in July was the fact that he couldn’t lay off the breaking ball. As we’ve seen with other young players, once you start giving it to the breaking pitches on a regular basis, you are pretty much done against major-league pitchers. Even someone as talented as Benintendi wasn’t immune to that. In August, he’s done a much better job of laying off these pitches. After swinging at half of the breaking balls he saw in July, Benintendi swung at only 32 percent in August, showing an impressive adjustment in approach.

The final adjustment came in how Benintendi was putting the ball into play. In July, he was becoming very easy to defend, as he was hitting more balls straight into the ground than ever and also relying far too much on his pull swing. That has changed in August. This month, the rookie outfielder has his lowest groundball rate of any month this season at less than 25 percent. Meanwhile, he’s utilizing the whole field as well as he has in 2017. According to Fangraphs’ batted ball data, only June saw Benintendi pull the ball less and use the opposite field more. When he’s hitting the ball like this, he’s much harder to defend and, more importantly, it’s a good indication that he’s feeling good with his swing.

The Red Sox need Andrew Benintendi hitting atop their lineup if they are going to be at their best. Fortunately, he’s been hitting in a big way lately and he has to have them feeling good about their chances heading into September. It’s not just about this year, though. This month has been hugely encouraging for Benintendi’s career. As I said above, every player is going to go through some rough stretches, particularly early in their career. The fact that the rookie outfielder was able to snap out of it and reverse all of his troubling trends so quickly bodes extremely well for the rest of his career. Benintendi has shown he can make adjustments, and it will make us feel a lot better the next time he goes into a slump.