Can Andrew Benintendi Take the Xander Bogaerts Turn?

From a fantasy perspective, 2019 has not gone how we hoped for Andrew Benintendi. The Red Sox outfielder was being selected in the top-30 this spring: 30th overall in NFBC drafts and 29th at Fantasy Pros.

Benintendi continues to do things well in his third full big-league season. He hits for average, and walks often enough. While he is pacing for his lowest full-season stolen base output to date, he still can contribute in steals. But 450 games into his Major League career, Benintendi hasn’t been able to hit for the power that many anticipated. His 20-home run season in 2017 and current ISO of .181 being his high-water marks.

Benintendi’s solid, but underwhelming 2019 season may see him enter 2020 as a bit of a forgotten man in drafts. This could be a mistake if he is able to make the same power gains his teammate  Xander Bogaerts has made over the past two seasons – and Benintendi does share a significant amount of offensive traits with Boston’s star shortstop.

Bogaerts (in 2013) and Benintendi (in 2016) were top-10 prospects with similar offensive profiles. Both players were celebrated for their bat speed and hit tools, with projectable power coming as they develop. It took Bogaerts until his fifth full season to unlock his power and we are still waiting for Benintendi’s breakout.

Both players have shown strong contact skills into their major league careers – with career strikeout rates under 20 percent and walk rates above 8 percent. The teammates have posted batting averages above .280 and limited soft contact – they each rank in the top-40 in soft contact rate since the beginning of 2018.

What has set Bogaerts apart, has been his ability to generate hard contact, despite a very similar batted ball profile to Benintendi. Per Baseball Savant, Bogaerts has seen his barrel percentage and hard hit rates increase since the beginning of 2018.

Hart Hit Rate
Bogaerts Benintendi
2019 44 37
2018 41.6 33.1
2017 30.2 33.2
2016 32.7
2015 34.2
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Fly Ball Data
Bogaerts Benintendi
Avg Exit Velo Avg Distance FB% Avg Exit Velo Avg. Distance FB%
2019 93.1 325 41.2 90.9 322 43.7
2018 93.2 324 35.6 91.4 312 35.4
2017 87.7 304 30.5 90.7 313 38.4
2016 90.6 318 34.9
2015 88.3 303 25.8
SOURCE: Baseball Savant, FanGraphs

Nothing screams breakout within Benintendi’s profile and his expected stats at Baseball Savant suggest that he’s been more lucky than unlucky this season. His hard hit rate is a career-best, but everyone is hitting the ball harder in the year of the homer, 2019. Looking at Benintendi’s swing percentages, it does indicate that he may be trying to make an adjustment. He looks to be swinging more frequently, most notably at pitches high in the strike zone.

 

The problem is, Benintendi has been swinging more and making less contact, and again, the top of the strike zone is where a large amount of the change has occurred.

Is he is trying to generate more power by swinging at pitches higher in the zone? Benintendi has risen his launch angle this season to 18 degrees, after a career mark of 13.4 degrees heading into 2019. Perhaps it is taking time to get used to the adjustment and he is struggling in the process. He is making less contact overall, an increased whiff and chase percentage have led to a career-worst 23.7 percent strikeout rate. If Benintendi is able to make more contact with pitches up in the zone, or cut his swing rate to pre-2019 levels, he could see better results moving forward.

Even when considering Benintendi’s change in swing percentages, there’s nothing concrete that indicates a breakout is on the horizon. This doesn’t mean one isn’t coming, either. Ben Clemens wrote earlier this year about how Xander Bogaerts breakout was subtle and somewhat imperceptible. Heading into 2018, nothing in his profile suggested Bogaerts was a breakout candidate. Clemens notes that it was merely a small adjustment to what pitches Bogaerts decided to swing at that enabled him to unlock his power. Not the kind of major change that we typically associate with a breakout. There was nothing in Rafael Devers 2018 profile that indicated his star turn heading into 2019, either.

Benintendi has already demonstrated ability to hit for average with solid plate skills at the major league level. He was considered one of the best prospects in the minor leagues and he appears to be in the process of making adjustments (albeit not successful ones) this season. Sometimes we can see the breakout coming. Sometimes we can’t. Between his pedigree, major league track record, and the potential of a subtle adjustment, Benintendi looks like someone that may not be telegraphing his power surge, but keep him in mind as we move into the 2020 season anyway.

We hoped you liked reading Can Andrew Benintendi Take the Xander Bogaerts Turn? by Nick Dika!

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Nick thinks running a Major League or fantasy baseball team is incredibly easy. Until he is handed one of those coveted GM positions, his writing at RotoGraphs will illustrate how to do it properly. Fantasy baseball trade consultations and anything else can be sent to nick.dika@gmail.com or tweeted to @nickdika.

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Francis C.
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Francis C.

Seems like a pretty good sample size to deduce that he is trying to lift the ball more. Unfortunately he isn’t hitting the ball much harder in order to take advantage. Either he should figure out how to get more power out of his swing, or maybe go back to the line drive, low strikeout guy that he was.