(WHDH) — In 2016, Andrew Bentintendi earned plaudits from all corners of Red Sox Nation by skipping right from AA-ball to the big leagues and hitting .295 with an .835 OPS as a late-season callup at just 22 years old. He displayed a beautiful swing and he had amazing hair. The Nation collectively swooned.
But last year was more of a mixed bag. The former 1st round pick came charging out of the gate, hitting .333 with a .870 OPS in April, but plummeted in May and went up and down all season. It wasn’t a disaster of a sophomore season by any stretch, but it did show the young left fielder still needed to develop into a more consistent everyday hitter. We may be watching that happen before our very eyes this season.
Since starting the year a tepid .242 in April, Benintendi has been arguably the second best hitter in the American League, behind teammate Mookie Betts. Over the last five weeks, with apologies to the injured Betts, there’s been no AL hitter better. Benintendi leads the league in batting average, slugging and OPS over that time span.
For the month of May, he raked at a .349 clip with a 1.044 OPS. Benintendi and Betts became the first Boston teammates in more than 15 years to hit above .340 with an OPS above 1.000 and at least six home runs in the same month.
He went through a nine-game stretch in mid-May in which he hit .444. The kid is a special kind of hitter.
One of the most promising signs of improvement for a young slugger is their plate discipline. Bentintendi’s walk rate his risen each year he’s been in the big leagues while his K-rate has decreased:
2016: 21.2 K%, 8.5 BB%
2017: 17.0 K%, 10.6 BB%
2018: 16.7 K%, 12.3 BB %
He has also improved on his zone swing percentage, now at a career high 66%, while cutting back on swings outside the strike zone, down to just 26%.
Like his superb teammates J.D. Martinez, Benintendi has become a terrific opposite field hitter. He currently ranks 12th in the American League in opposite field percentage, according to Fangraphs. Last year, he was 58th.
On Sunday, Benny delivered a two-hit night in Houston including a fifth-inning home run off the Astros’ terrific starter Charlie Morton to give Boston a 3-1 lead. After the game, Alex Cora mentioned Benintendi’s improved patience at the plate and his willingness to go the other way as contributing factors to his recent success.
What’s perhaps most scary is there’s still plenty of room for improvement. For all the success he’s had this year, Bentinendi is still struggling mightily against left-handed pitching. Last year he hit just .232 against lefties with four extra base hits in 112 at bats. This year, he’s down to .200 at just nine-for-51.
In fact, of the more than 250 big leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances against lefties since 2016, Benintendi is dead last in slugging percentage.
If he’s never the hitter against lefties that he is against righties, Benintendi could still easily be a perennial All-Star. If he starts crushing southpaws too, look out.
For the time being, the Sox have to be pleased by Benintendi’s emergence. If nothing else, with Hanley Ramirez gone and Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia nursing injuries, he’s shown he’s capable of helping to carry the club offensively for long stretches at a time.
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