Opinion

Has Andrew Benintendi become a good baserunner?

Andrew Benintendi’s made significant improvement to his baserunning abilities

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (May 26, 2018 – Source: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images North America) 

Sometimes MLB players run into what is known as the “sophomore slump” in their second full year as a big-leaguer. Baseball is a game adjustments, and with a whole offseason to dissect a rookies strengths and weaknesses, opposing players will try to exploit any holes in the sophomore’s game. That is at least part of the conventional wisdom when it comes to this potential enigmatic second-year skid. At the very least, it is a good narrative to perpetuate when these scuffles occur. Luckily, the Boston Red Sox do not have to hear squat about this narrative in regards to Andrew Benintendi.

It has been well-documented that Benintendi is having a stellar 2018 campaign, but let’s reiterate it here. In 358 plate appearances this season, the left-handed hitter has produced a .285 AVG/.369 OBP/.508 SLG slash line to go along with a 2.8 fWAR. He has improved both his power output and plate discipline, which is an almost foolproof strategy to attain better numbers.

His defense has remained solid, although he will never provide Mookie Betts or Jackie Bradley Jr. level of fielding value. The only part of Beni Biceps’ game that people criticize is his baserunning, citing absent-mindedness and poor reads as the culprit of this perceived deficiency in his game. However, the perception that Benintendi is a bad baserunner is very much 2017 and there is actually quite a compelling case to make that he is a very good baserunner.

Have you ever heard of the stat BsR over at Fangraphs? If not, that is certainly understandable, so I’ll drop the definition here so you have some context.

Base Running (BsR) is FanGraphs’ all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average.

It is the baserunning component that goes into fWAR and it is highly-regarded as a extremely accurate measure of a player’s value on the base paths. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts consistently rate very well in this statistical category and do so again in 2018. In fact, Betts and Bogaerts were near the top of the 2017 MLB leaders in BsR. It would be wise to assume that one of them leads the team in the stat this year, but that is not the case. Andrew Benintendi is the Red Sox leader in BsR with a sterling 3.6 score.

Granted, it is a cumulative stat, so he has benefitted from being on the field more than Bogey and Betts this season. On the other hand, since he has played as often as he has, there is more of a sample size to suggest that this is not just a fluke and he has made significant strides in the baserunning department. He actually ranks 11th in all of baseball in BsR, sandwiched between heralded baserunners Brett Gardner (3.6) and Dee Gordon (3.5). Further, it represents a major jump from the 1.4 BsR score he compiled in ’17.

After a swiping 20 bags in 2017, Beni has stolen 15 already through half a season. More interesting, though, is the fact he has only been thrown out on one stolen-base attempt this year. For comparison, he was thrown out five times last year. That works out to a 93.8 percent success rate, which is tops in baseball among qualifiers. A 15:1 stolen base to caught stealing ratio will ballon that BsR score but it has not been his only source of value towards that.

In the past (or even in the present), the 23-year-old has been chastised for making outs on the bases and failing to take the extra base. For a hypothetical,  when a ball is hit up the middle while Beni is on second, the expectation is that he may either run into an out at the plate or fail to advance to home and score.

There is a statistic over at the Washington Post (of all places) that tracks this and it is called “extra bases taken as a runner.” Basically, it shows the percentage of times a player takes the extra base when possible (first to third on a single, first to home on a double, second to home on a single). There is only one Boston Red Sox in the top-20 among AL players and it is, you guessed it, Benintendi. In 21 opportunities, he has taken the extra base 11 times, which is good for a 52 percent success rate. This places him tied for 19th with Josh Reddick in the American League.

To be fair, Baseball Reference also tracks Extra Base Taken percentage and Beni’s only listed as having a 36% success rate, which is actually down from 44% the year before. I am not sure how accurate these conflicting statistics are, so take them with a grain of salt, although B/R is pretty reliable. With that said, I checked out the Washington Post’s stats database, which is courtesy of STATS (they have a wonderful reputation), and all the baserunning stats are up to date.

Anyway, another illuminating statistic is OOB (outs on base) which is what Beni — fairly or unfairly — has become somewhat known for. He made 11 outs on the base paths last season but has only made three this season. Considering we are almost exactly halfway through the season, he is on pace to make just 6 outs on the bases in 2018, an almost 50 percent decrease from the prior year.

While he has very good foot speed (27.7 ft/s Sprint Speed), he does not have the burners of a Betts. For Benintendi to make the baserunning improvements he has, it has had to come via practice and situational awareness. That is a lot harder and, frankly, more admirable to refine than a pure genetic gift or natural instincts. Beni has put in work to become a better baserunner and he deserves all the credit in the world for doing so.

The idea that Andrew Benintendi is a mediocre (at best) baserunner is completely false. He has taken significant strides and has done a lot to dispel this myth in 2018. In year two of what should be an excellent MLB career, Benintendi has transformed himself into a very good baserunner.

 

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