Boston Red Sox: Diagnosing Andrew Benintendi’s early struggles

The Boston Red Sox offense has been productive so far this season, but young star Andrew Benintendi has struggled to stay consistent at the plate.

If you’re wondering if it’s too early to panic about your favorite player, look at the calendar. If it reads “April”, the answer is yes, it’s too early to panic. It’s never too early, however, to offer some constructive criticism. That’s exactly what Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi needs right now.

Through 27 games, Benintendi is hitting .242 with an OBP of .358 and a slugging of .396. He has just 10 extra base hits so far, only one of which has been a home run. While it’s very early in the 2018 season, it’s safe to say the young lefty is struggling.

What’s different about Benintendi this year, though? For one, he cut his hair and got himself a girlfriend. These two things may not correlate with his on-field performance, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

What stands out about Benintendi?

From a baseball standpoint, there are a few things that jump off the stat sheet. First and foremost is his spray chart.

According to Fangraphs, Benintendi is pulling 47.3% of balls, hitting 23% to center, and 29.7% to the opposite field. This is a far cry from his 2017 breakdown, which was 34.3% pull, 37% center, and 28.7% oppo.

Clearly, Benintendi has been out in front of the ball far more than he was last season. As a result, his ground ball percentage is up almost 6% while his fly ball percentage is down by 6%. With shifts that all but eliminate the pull-side seeing-eye single, Benintendi has found fewer holes than ever before.

This increase in ground ball percentage also explains Benintendi’s power deficiency, as it’s very difficult to get extra base hits on the ground.

The reason behind this uptick in ground ball (and pull-side) frequency is twofold. It has to do both with the Red Sox ultra-aggressive approach, as well as the way pitchers are attacking the young stud.

Hunting pitches

The new “hunt pitches” approach the Red Sox have adopted under Manager Alex Cora has been a blessing to some and a curse for others. For No. 16, it’s been the latter.

Knowing that the Red Sox are fastball ready in the box, pitchers have responded by throwing Benintendi more changeups than ever before. Last season, Benintendi was thrown 13.7% changeups. This year, the percentage has skyrocketed to 22.1%.

It might be easy to say “stay back and drive it up the middle” while you’re watching from your couch at home, but it’s just not that easy. He’ll figure it out, it’s just a matter of when.

Andrew Benintendi was runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year in 2017, and for good reason. He’s a gifted baseball player and one who will see a ton of success throughout his long career.

For the first time, though, pitchers have started to figure him out and attack his weaknesses. This game is all about making adjustments, so it will be interesting to see how the 23-year-old heart throb adapts to an adverse situation.

Hopefully, Benintendi will fight through his struggles and make an impact in this week’s home series. The Red Sox welcome the Kansas City Royals to town, and they’ll need all hands on deck to get back to their dominant ways. Go Sox!