Opinion

Andrew Benintendi is Hitting Lefties

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Aug. 31, 2018 – Source: Jon Durr/Getty Images North America)

There isn’t much that Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi cannot do. The 24-year old lefty is one of the most polished, well-rounded young players in the game of baseball. As it is, he’s destined to be one of the best players in the league, and he’s only getting better. The biggest strike against Benintendi entering the season was that he struggled against left-handed pitching, but that critique is no longer accurate. Andrew Benintendi is hitting lefties as he continues to develop into one of the best all-around players in baseball.

Andrew Benintendi is Hitting Lefties Well

Entering 2018, it was no secret that Andrew Benintendi struggled against left-handed pitching. In the first year and a half of his career, Benintendi owned a .221/.319/.264 slash line with a 59 wRC+ against lefties. His BABIP was slightly below league average at .283, but that’s no excuse for why his numbers were so poor.

This year, Benintendi has fixed that problem in a major way. So far through 2018, Benintendi is hitting .242/.300/.406 with an 87 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. These numbers jump to .278/.313/.472 with a 106 wRC+ when excluding the first month of the season.

As Benintendi’s career and season have gone on, he’s gotten better and better at addressing the biggest flaw in his game. However, how real is this success? Are these numbers caused by luck, or has Benintendi found sustainable success against left-handed pitching?

Digging Deeper

The first thing to check with situations like this is the batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. BABIP is primarily luck-based and tends to hover around .300 league-wide. For example, if a player had a .450 BABIP, you could easily expect a dropoff in production, as that sort of luck just isn’t sustainable.

Fortunately, Benintendi’s BABIP against lefties is fairly normal. Since April, the outfielder has a slightly above average .329 BABIP. While luck has artificially inflated his numbers, his BABIP isn’t high enough to suggest that this stretch of success is solely due to good luck.

Interestingly enough, despite the uptick in overall numbers, Benintendi’s strikeout rate has increased from 21.3% to 22.4%. Additionally, his walk rate has dropped from 12.8% to 4.3%. These numbers are surprising, to say the least, as they are worse than his career norms despite the fact that his overall production has significantly improved.

Benintendi has clearly improved the type of contact he produces. For one, he’s putting more balls in the air. Prior to 2018, Benintendi had a 49.5% ground ball rate against lefties. This season, he’s improved that rate to just 39.8%. It’s obviously better to put the ball in the air than on the ground, so that’s played a large part in Benintendi’s success.

Additionally, Benintendi has significantly improved his quality of contact against lefties. Entering the season, Bentinendi was making soft contact 23.2% of the time against lefties, per Fangraphs. This season, that number has dropped to just 13.1%. Once again, this ten-point swing is a major reason for his success, as medium and hard contact is always preferable to soft contact.

Unfiltered Thoughts on Andrew Benintendi

His performance is overshadowed by the likes of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but Andrew Benintendi is continuing to develop into one of the best outfielders in baseball. He’s improved in several ways this year, but his most impressive development has been his improvement against lefty pitching.

While he has been slightly lucky, all the data shows that this improvement should be here to last. He’s reduced his ground ball rate and his soft contact rate, which shows that he’s seeing the ball better. His batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+ are all up and should stay that way.

Benintendi has one of the highest ceilings in all of major league baseball. He’s already one of the better outfielders in the game, and he should only improve as he gets older. He’s actively fixing his biggest weakness and has turned into a solid bat against left-handed pitching. With this weakness fixed, there aren’t many holes left in Benintendi’s game.

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