Opinion

Andrew Benintendi’s quietly amazing season

Andrew Benintendi is having a sneaky good 2018 campaign

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (April 25, 2018 – Source: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America

Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are running the show for the Boston Red Sox. The former is arguably the best player in baseball right now and the latter is one of the premier offensive weapons in the game. The dynamic dinger duo have belted a collective 33 bombs, with 16 from Martinez and 17 from Betts. No two players on a single team in MLB have combined for more tape-measure shots. Unsurprisingly, it is easy, if you are the third best position player on the team, to quietly exist in their shadows.

Andrew Benintendi has had a phenomenal season, one far superior to his rookie campaign. There has been no sophomore slump, although he did scuffle in early April, and he is starting to fulfill the lofty expectations bestowed upon the former top prospect.

In 220 plate appearances, which leads the team, the staple number two hitter has churned an exceptional .283 AVG/.373 OBP/.492 SLG slash line, leading to a tremendous 131 wRC+ on the young season. Moreover, Fangraphs has him listed at a 1.6 fWAR through 49 games in 2018. He was worth 2.1 fWAR all of last year (151 games), which he is well on pace to eclipse this year.

The improvement has been evident on the offensive of the ball. His BB% has increased from 10.6% in ’17 to 12.7% in ’18 and his K% has dropped from 17.0% to 16.4% in the same span. Both of those are trending in the right direction for the left-handed hitter, who is just 23 years of age. Additionally, his power output has soared this season, as he boasts a .209 ISO (Isolated Power), which is considerably better than the .154 ISO he produced last season.

Beni is walking more frequently and hitting for more power, while striking out less. Consequently, it is pretty easy to see why his wRC+ has demonstrably improved from the 103 mark he produced in 2017. Oddly, though, his Hard Contact%, per Fangraphs, has actually dipped in ’18, while his Soft Contact% has gone up slightly. For a guy who has been so much more powerful, yeah, that is a little odd. To be fair, he has compiled the fourth-highest rate of Medium Contact% among MLB qualifiers.

No one would mistake the former Arkansas Razorback as a homer machine, like his aforementioned teammates. He has six long balls on the year, five of which have been pulled to right field. Instead, Benintendi has the reputation of being one of those increasingly rare all-around hitters. Check out his spray chart of batted balls this season.

Although the majority of his homers have been pulled, the man has serious double-power the other way. In fact, most of his two-baggers have been hit to opposite field, presumably to take advantage of Green Monster. There is a hefty amount of green (groundballs) concentrated between second and first base, but there is a spaced-out sea of blue in left field. This spray chart is so impressive because the batted balls are so scattered, validating that “all-around hitter” reputation.

While a lot of players are trying to crush 500-foot round trippers, Beni seems comfortable staying with the approach that saw him succeed at the collegiate level. That is not to say he has not adjusted at the plate. In fact, his plate discipline has changed, like most Red Sox hitters under the Alex Cora regime, dramatically.

Andrew Benintendi is swinging at a significantly more pitches in the zone, his Z-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung at in the zone) improving from 64.5% to 71.8% between 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, he has also cut down his O-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung at out of the zone) 1.5% in the same stretch. Obviously, this is a formula for success, because hitters want to swing at more strikes (they are better pitches to hit) and less balls (they are worse pitches to hit).

Better pitch selection has enabled the second-year player to, quite frankly, be a better hitter. He is still being pitched away, mainly to the low-to-middle part of the outer half, but has shown some improvement in making decent contact with those offerings. Honestly, his weakness seems to be high and away pitches, but pitchers have not challenged him there nearly as often.

He has even improved his baserunning this season, swiping eight bags without being caught. Further, his BsR, an all-encompassing base running stat that goes into fWAR, is 2.5 this season after running a 1.4 mark last season.

Everything about 2018 has been in Benintendi’s favor is basically the summation of this blog post. With that said, there is one more collection of stats I would like to share before the conclusion of this article. Quietly, like almost everything about his season has been, Beni Biceps has been in the upper-echelon of clutch hitters.

Between what Fangraphs constitutes as medium and high leverage situations this year, Beni has posted an incredible 1.213 OPS with a 213 wRC+ in 98 plate appearances. In high leverage situations alone, which is admittedly a small 22 plate appearances sample, he has produced a very solid .830 OPS and 125 wRC+. These numbers have helped him to possess the second-best WPA (win probability added) in the entirety of baseball with a 2.18 score. If you were curious, Mookie Betts has the best WPA in the MLB with a 2.60.

Anyway, you are probably wondering what the hell WPA is. Here is a brief explanation, courtesy of Fangraphs’ glossary. 

Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning

Now, clutch hitting has been statistically proven to not be sustainable year-to-year. In other words, “clutch” seems to be more of a byproduct of random sequencing than it does to be a retainable skill inherent in certain players. However, one cannot ignore when a player increases the odds of a team’s winning percentage as much as Benintendi has. There is a ton of value in that, despite it probably not being maintainable on an annual basis.

WPA just calculates the change in win expectancy in a given situation. Fangraphs also has a Clutch stat, which is different than WPA because it determines how well a player performs in a “high leverage” spot in comparison to a neutral one. Not all players with a high WPA have a high Clutch score. In fact, Betts’ is -0.35. Benintendi, on the other hand, sports the second-best Clutch score in all of baseball with a 0.97 mark, trailing only Jean Segura.

Andrew Benintendi has been a much better player and hitter this season, with quite a bit of clutch in him, too. He might even be the “most clutch hitter” in baseball this season. Putting it all together, there are so many positive aspects of Beni’s 2018 season. His plate discipline has improved markedly, while maintaining his all-around offensive approach. He’s historically struggled against left-handed pitching, but he has really hit southpaws hard in May, a very much welcomed sign of improvement.

He may not be the best player in the lineup. He may not even be the second best player in the lineup. Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts are  pretty great, themselves, so he may not even be the third or fourth best player in the lineup. Regardless, he is a damn good player, having a stellar season. Beni Biceps deserves all the praise in the world for his sneaky good 2018 campaign.

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