Welcome to our 2020 Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2020. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player. For each edition we’ll describe the season in a sentence, look at the positives from the year as well as negatives, look back at our one big question from the season preview and look ahead to the 2021 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. Today we are exploring how 2020 was for Andrew Benintendi.
2020 in one sentence
It couldn’t have gone any worse for Benintendi, who couldn’t hit a lick in the games he played before suffering a season-ending injury, which spared him from any further indignity except for columns like this.
Growing up in Cincinnati, Benintendi is potentially a Bengals fan, and their getting Joe Burrow may feel pretty huge to him, if I have accurately gauged the ‘sitch. He also, as far as this blogger knows, did not contract COVID-19 and is still in robust overall health, even with the lingering baseball injury, so, you know, super. Beyond that, his former coworker Mookie Betts is doing the things he’s always done, but in the World Series now. That probably feels cool. Maybe he watches and enjoys The Boys. I dunno if he does, but he should, and it would certainly be a positive. It’s a fun show. We’re having fun. This is fine.
First off, it’s possible he hasn’t seen The Boys.
Second, he absolutely cratered as a hitter, leaning into his worst tendencies and generally flailing about like the saddest possible version of himself.
The decline started in earnest two years ago and has continued ever since; one suspects the karmic gift of The Catch against the Astros might be having its way with the lad. I noted before the season that Benintendi’s cerebral, light-hitting approach to the game wasn’t a great fit with modern baseball, but I thought it was at least compatible with it. And it should be! But hitting .103 is not compatible with any sort of baseball, and doing it in the midst of a three-year power decline in this launch-friendly age is a big fat no-no.
The worst part is how steady Benintendi’s decline has been, as chronicled by John Tomase, who tried to see a way forward with Beni while acknowledging the sad truth:
He managed just two home runs in the second half of 2018 before hitting .268 with no homers and a .667 OPS in the playoffs (and one game-saving catch, to be fair). The 2019 season saw him devolve into an average outfielder, the kind of guy available on any Triple-A roster in America. He managed just 13 home runs, continuing a three-year decline from his high of 20 in 2017.
Even that is overly kind. His execrable 2020, consisting of a whopping 14 games, could maybe have been explained away by injuries and the bananas circumstances under which we all operate these days, but they still are so bad as to be threat level midnight, more or less.
The Big Question
Are Andrew Benintendi’s 2019 strikeouts here to stay?
The long answer is much better than the short answer in this case. The long answer is “No, but only because Benintendi barely played and may himself not stick around,” and, for its righteous clarity, is obviously dripping in semantics.
The short answer is, of course, yes.
He had 39 at-bats in 2020. Seventeen ended in a strikeout. That is a lot of strikeouts, but for other high-whiff individuals, sometimes the other stats, power stats in particular, have a way of balancing out the old ledger. Not in this case! Of his four hits this year, one was a double. The others didn’t get so far and he ended up chatting with the first baseman.
So yes, the strikeouts were pretty bad. Benintendi seems stuck between eras and philosophies and until he straightens all that out, the K’s seems likely to continue. If he figures it out. Groan.
Looking ahead to 2021
This one could go a few ways. Benintendi’s decrepitude has opened up the Sox to many options involving his future, and if there’s one thing the Sox love more than quality baseball, it’s options. They could bring Benintendi and his still relatively modest contract (he’s set to make $6.6 million in 2021) back and hope he snaps out of it, which is by far the most likely outcome. They could try to extend him, which I recently suggested, on the likely (but by no means certainly) guess that he has bottomed out and represents a great value. Finally they could trade him, almost certainly for pennies on the dollar, which seems pretty unlikely given the Sox’s commitment to the bottom line.
Put it all together and I suspect he will be back and about average, leaving the real hard choices for next offseason, when they’ll have to decide on what to do with a so-so asset eligible for arbitration one final time, rather than a busted one. They sorta have to let him play his way back to value or fizzle out entirely, if he hasn’t already by that point. It’s crazy that we’re here, but a lot about this year is crazy. Put it on the list.