It hasn’t been a great start to the shortened 2020 season for the Red Sox, and specifically Andrew Benintendi has been at the center of these struggles. Currently, as I write this, Benintendi is slashing .056/.261/.083 with no homers only one run batted in to go with a dismal 18 wRC+. There’s not much that could get worse for the young left fielder, but I don’t think it’s time to panic just yet.
Digging a little deeper into his tendencies, there are some encouraging and curious things. First, his O-Swing rate is actually down five percentage points from last season and back in line with his 2018 numbers when he was a four-win player. In more basic terms, he’s not swinging at pitches outside the zone nearly as much as he did a season ago, which is obviously encouraging to see. Curiously though, his Z-Swing rate is down nine percentage points from a season ago. This means he’s not swinging at pitches inside the zone as much as he used to. This is not quite as encouraging to see in the sense that an easy way to break out of a slump is to swing at strikes. There are certainly bigger red flags to overcome when in a slump, though.
Another encouraging stat, which coincides with his improved O-Swing rate, is the rate at which he’s drawing walks. Benintendi is currently drawing walks at a 23 percent clip, which is absurdly high and in the top two percent of the league. This shows the outfielder still has his grip on the zone, and even if he’s not getting hits he’s still getting on base and in position to score runs.
Benintendi’s Z-Contact rate (rate at which he is making contact on swings in the zone) is actually at the highest mark of his career at 90 percent. A major issue here simply seems to be that he’s not pulling the trigger enough on pitches in the zone. As for pitches out of the zone, Benintendi’s contact rate is currently the lowest it has ever been and nearly 30 percentage points lower than his career rate. This means that even though he isn’t swinging at nearly as many pitches outside the zone as he used to when he does swing, he’s not making contact.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that last stat, Benintendi’s strikeout rate right now is the highest of his career by a large margin. Currently at 34 percent, he’s currently sitting over 10 percentage points higher than last season, which was already a stark increase from the two seasons before that. A lot of this can probably be explained by the fact that he’s not swinging at pitches in the zone like he used to, and missing much more often outside the zone. With all of that going on, of course he’s going to strike out more. The good news is that both of these tendencies should self-correct as Benintendi starts to break out of this slump. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
Everything is magnified currently in a short season and the longer a slump goes on the more pressure there is on the hitter, which doesn’t help the chances of breaking out. We’ve seen enough from Benintendi as a hitter to know that, in the most basic sense of the word, he can hit. He’s always had a handle on the strike zone and that seems even more true this season. So, if his tendencies show he needs to swing at more pitches in the zone, I feel confident he can and will overcome this slump shortly.