Andrew Benintendi

It's time for Andrew Benintendi to become a catalyst of Red Sox offense

It's time for Andrew Benintendi to become a catalyst of Red Sox offense

One by one, they've made "The Leap," whether it's Mookie Betts becoming a five-tool superstar, shortstop Xander Bogaerts emerging as a legitimate MVP threat, or third baseman Rafael Devers going supernova.

Will 2020 be Andrew Benintendi's turn?

The paths to improvement for a Red Sox team intent on slashing payroll aren't exactly plentiful, but the clearest one involves Benintendi delivering on the promise that has made him a batting champ-in-waiting since he reached the big leagues in 2016.

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He regressed significantly last year, when his power vanished and he swung through hittable pitches while looking a step slow all over the diamond. He was a Gold Glove finalist on reputation more than performance, his season perfectly captured by his OPS-plus of 100, which is exactly average. He hit a career-low .266 with only 13 homers and left for the winter knowing he needs to arrive to spring training in better shape if he wants to take that next propulsive step forward.

"Actually, Benny is in a better place, I do believe, physically," manager Alex Cora said at the winter meetings. "It's not that he was out of shape, but his body was different last year. He was stronger, and some of his moves were slower than in previous years. I don't know if he wanted to hit home runs or he felt like he lost so much weight in the previous season that he needed to show up a little bit heavier or stronger, and obviously it didn't work out."

Benintendi ranked below average in virtually every measure of physical skill, from exit velocity (40th percentile) to outs above average in the field (5th percentile) to outfield jump (27th percentile), per Baseball Savant. His bat looked slow and so did his legs.

Most surprisingly, his strikeouts soared. He and Seattle's Mallex Smith were the only two players in baseball to strike out at least 140 times without hitting even 15 homers. In today's launch angle-crazed game, strikeouts are considered an acceptable byproduct of home runs. But when the home runs don't come? Then what are you? At least Smith led the AL with 46 steals. Benintendi had 10.

"If you guys think that that's the real Benny striking out 130 times, I don't see it," Cora said. "He's a better hitter than that, and hopefully he can put the ball in play a little bit more and he can hit for average and be the athletic player we saw a few years ago.

"He's actually going back to be the athlete that we like to see," Cora added. "He's a better player. He can hit for power and hit for average. There's a few things, as far as mechanics, that we've been talking about it with (hitting coaches) Timmy (Hyers) and Peter (Fatse), and if we get there, he'll be good."

There's no overstating how significantly Benintendi can transform the lineup if he becomes an All-Star. His inability to hit out of the leadoff spot served as a drag on the entire offense last April, necessitating the return of Betts to the top spot. In a perfect world, the Red Sox would boast the toughest top five in the league with Betts, Devers, Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Benintendi making life miserable on opposing staffs.

Benintendi's teammates are on board. The sweet-swinging outfielder doesn't turn 26 until July and is very much at an age where he can make the same leap as the aforementioned trio.

"I think Benny will be real good," Bogaerts said in San Diego last week. "I know last year was kind of a little bump in the road. I know when you're young, you're trying to find stuff sometimes and you try to do a little more instead of a little less, but that comes with it, man. You're just trying to figure it out, because no one wants to not perform at the level you want to. So you're obviously searching and finding for different stuff. I think he'll have a real good year. I'm not saying a Devers type of year, but I wouldn't be surprised with anything close to that. I think he has the ability for that."

Dustin Pedroia's sad connection to Jim Rice, and other surprising Red Sox numbers

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Dustin Pedroia's sad connection to Jim Rice, and other surprising Red Sox numbers

Cover the Red Sox for a year and you'll spend a lot of time staring at Baseball-Reference, the pre-eminent site for the kind of stats you would've found on a Topps card in 1986, as well as many of the advanced numbers that have transformed the modern game.

Over the course of a season, some numbers will occasionally jump out at you. Here are five, from lowest to highest, that caught my attention in 2019.

.001 — The difference in OPS between Rafael Devers (.916) in his superstar breakout year and Mookie Betts (.915) in his lackluster MVP follow-up. Anyone who watched the team knows that Devers was the more impactful offensive player, especially from May through July, when the Red Sox still  believed they had a shot at the playoffs. And yet when all was said and done, their numbers were virtually identical. It turns out that context matters.

3 — Hits for Dustin Pedroia since the start of 2018. He's had just 31 at-bats in that span, but that has been enough to drop his lifetime average from .300 to .299. He's almost certain to become a victim of the Jim Rice Effect. The Hall of Fame slugger was a .300 hitter for almost his entire career, dropping below that threshold on May 5, 1989. He played only 29 more games, and finished at .298. Let the record show that Pedroia was still a lifetime .300 hitter (technically .299535, but baseball rounds up), until grounding to short to lead off his penultimate game against Baltimore's Dan Straily. If this is it, he'll finish his career two hits shy of .300.

10 — Wins in Brandon Workman's out-of-nowhere dominant season, which saw him become the first pitcher in history to follow a 1-10 season (in 2014) with a 10-1 campaign. Only 55 pitchers since 1900 have won no more than one game while losing at least 10. Even rarer is the inverse, which has been done 21 times. Workman is the only pitcher to appear on both lists.

15 — Andrew Benintendi home runs since the second half of 2018. Benintendi entered the 2018 All-Star break with 14 bombs and nearly made the All-Star team. He has suffered a mystifying power outage since, managing just two homers in the second half of 2018 and 13 last year. That means he has dropped from 14 homers in the first 91 games of 2018 to 15 in the 195 games since.

21 — Months that Jackie Bradley Jr. has hit under .220 with the Red Sox. Compare that to three crazy outliers that saw him hit over .350 and it becomes clear how misleading it is to call him streaky, a term that suggests roughly equal performance in both directions. Take away August of 2015 (.354), May of 2016 (.381), and June of 2017 (.353) and Bradley's career average dips from .236 to .221, which helps explain why the Red Sox are likely to move on from the defensive whiz this winter.

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Four Boston Red Sox players named 2019 Gold Glove award finalists

Four Boston Red Sox players named 2019 Gold Glove award finalists

MLB announced its 2019 Gold Glove award finalists on Thursday, and four Boston Red Sox players made the cut.

Catcher Christian Vazquez, left fielder Andrew Benintendi, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and right fielder Mookie Betts were each recognized for their defensive prowess in the 2019 campaign.

This is Vazquez's first Gold Glove nomination since entering the league in 2014. While making an impact behind the plate, the 29-year-old enjoyed the best offensive season of his career hitting .276 with 23 home runs and 72 RBI. Joining Vazquez as finalists in the American League are Indians catcher Roberto Perez and Blue Jays backstop Danny Jansen.

Benintendi was nominated for a Gold Glove award last year, but it was Royals left fielder Alex Gordon who took home the hardware for the fifth time in his career. Gordon will compete with Benintendi again this year, along with the Athletics' Robbie Grossman.

Bradley is a perrenial Gold Glove candidate, so this one doesn't come as much of a surprise. The 2018 Gold Glove award winner certainly has some competition this year, though, in Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and Angels superstar Mike Trout.

Betts, like Bradley, earned a Gold Glove in 2018. If he does so again this year, it'll be his fourth straight. The '18 AL MVP will go up against Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun and the Astros' Josh Reddick.

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