The Red Sox have the most wins in baseball and they are tied at the top of the most competitive division in the game. They are, relatively speaking, an outstanding baseball team who have just about as much going for them as one could ask for. That’s not to say they are perfect; they have issues. The bottom of the lineup is frustrating, there isn’t much depth at the bottom of the roster, Mitch Moreland is struggling, Rafael Devers’ performance has been erratic. These are all legitimate issues that will be addressed one way or another as the year goes on and the Red Sox make sure they put the best team possible on the field as the postseason approaches.
In the meantime, they certainly have the talent to keep them afloat. As we’ve seen lately, a whole lot of that talent resides on the pitching side, but the lineup isn’t lacking either. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are arguably the face of this team right now, and that’s a deserved distinction. They better be making room for another superstar in the lineup, though, because Andrew Benintendi is one of the hottest hitters in baseball and he’s becoming a star-level player in his own right. The former first round pick has shown plenty of flashes through his career, of course, but for the first time in his time in the majors, it feels as if Benintendi has truly arrived.
Obviously, as I alluded to before, this is not the first time Benintendi has been good. We’ve seen the talent since the moment he was drafted and even in the majors we’ve seen some of the things that make him such an intriguing player. It’s been really difficult not to be impressed by the way he’s adjusted to the majors right from the get-go. For example, he’s shown great plate discipline from the moment he arrived and we’ve seen the potential for him to be an all-around force at times. What we haven’t seen is the lefty put it all together for a sustained run. Well, he’s now hitting for power while still showing off the great plate discipline, and we’re seeing the ideal version of Benintendi. I gotta say, it’s pretty rad.
Even after a rather lackluster first month of the season, his full-season numbers to date are still outstanding. Through his first 64 games and 290 plate appearances, Benintendi has hit .297/.383/.554, good for a 150 wRC+. In other words, he has been 50 percent better than the league-average hitter this year. For further context, that makes him the 12th best hitter in all of baseball by that metric. That...well, it seems pretty good! The last month or so have been even more encouraging, since as I mentioned he was simply okay for the first month of the year. Since the start of May, Benintendi is hitting an incredible .331/.403/.656 for a 182 wRC+. That would trail only Betts and Mike Trout on the full-season leaderboard.
The big difference for Benintendi between the start of the year and his recent hot run comes down to power. His plate discipline has always been good and it hasn’t really changed much of late. He has become more aggressive of late, but that’s actually come largely on pitches out of the zone, which tells me he’s just confident he can hit everything. He’s also striking out a bit more, but that’s a smaller sample thing and even then it’s a league-average strikeout rate for the month of June so far. He’s still walking much more than average as well. Benintendi has always had a relatively high floor because of his plate discipline.
We haven’t seen the former near-unanimous number one prospect hit for consistent power like this at any point in his career, though. For the first time ever, it seems as if he’s a threat to go yard — or at least hit for extra bases — every time he comes to the plate. Power is up around the league, of course, but Benintendi never really joined the power surge in 2017 (along with the rest of the Red Sox). This year, that’s changed, and his .257 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) ranks 16th in baseball right between Edwin Encarnacion and Travis Shaw. Since the start of May, it’s all the way up to .325, which would rank fourth right being Martinez on the full-season leaderboard.
There are reasons to believe this is going to keep up as well. The Red Sox left fielder looks like a different hitter by the eye test right now, and that’s proving true with the numbers as well. As the year has gone on, Benintendi has become more and more suited for power in terms of batted ball data. Since April, he’s cut down significantly on his ground ball rate, is hitting the ball to center field more (hitting the ball right back up the middle is often indicative of near-ideal contact), and has seen his hard-hit rate increase incrementally. Hitting for this much power is likely unsustainable, but for the first time in his career Benintendi is a legitimate power threat and that should continue moving forward.
This recent hot streak has come at a particularly opportune time with Mookie Betts missing a chunk of the season with injury and Benintendi sliding perfectly into the leadoff role. In fact, we’ve argued that he should stick in the leadoff spot even with Betts back. That still holds true, but the most important thing is that he’s at the top of the lineup. We’ve always known Benintendi has star potential, but he’s finally starting to show it now. Even if he’s not leading off, he, Betts and Martinez are going to be at or near the top of the lineup in some order. And that seems borderline unfair.