If there’s one player who epitomizes the Red Sox disappointing start to the 2020 season, it’s Andrew Benintendi. Through the first 11 games of the season, Benintendi is hitting just 2-for-29 for a batting average of .069 with 12 strikeouts (good for 2nd on the team behind Rafael Devers) and 0 home runs. Benintendi is currently the Red Sox worst hitter and it’s not even close. In fact, Benintendi isn’t just the worst hitter on the Red Sox. He’s the worst hitter in baseball.
Despite his struggles, manager Ron Roenicke has no plans of benching Benintendi. Roenicke said it “wouldn’t help” Benintendi get out of his slump to bench him for a few games. However, the question is just as much about what’s best for the Red Sox as it is about what’s best for Benintendi. The Red Sox are 3-8. They have the worst record in the AL. They can’t afford to continue losing at this rate for much longer and playing the aforementioned present day worst hitter in baseball isn’t helping them win any games.
The Red Sox came into this season banking on a breakout year from their young left fielder. Part of the calculus for trading Mookie Betts was the thought that Benintendi could raise his level of play and emerge as a top 15 outfielder in baseball. At the very least, they were relying on him to make up some of the production lose in the absence of the former AL MVP. Those aspirations seem foolish now, but there was a time when they may have felt more realistic.
In 2017, Benintendi finished with 20 home runs and finished 2nd in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Aaron Judge. At that point in time, it seemed like the Red Sox had a young star and that they made the right choice in deciding whether to include him or Yoan Moncada as the centerpiece of the Chris Sale deal. He was living up to his status as one of the top prospects in baseball and the 7th overall pick in the draft.
Then, after nearly missing out on an All-Star appearance in 2018, Benintendi regressed in 2019 and saw drops in batting average, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases. There isn’t one single statistical category in which Andrew Benintendi got better. After a year like 2019, it was hard to imagine how 2020 could get any worse and yet it’s managed to be unthinkably disastrous, which is something that can be said to aptly describe both Andrew Benintendi’s season thus far and the year 2020 as a whole.
It’s possible the pressure got to Benintendi. The daunting task of replacing Mookie Betts as Boston’s leadoff hitter and best outfielder was too much. Last year, Benintendi was put in the leadoff spot for most of the first two months of the season. He went 5-for-42 at the end of May and Boston quickly figured out that wasn’t the spot for him in the order. His batting average last season was 40 points higher when batting second in the order compared to first. Nevertheless, the Red Sox went into 2020 planning to try the experiment again. It’s very clear Benintendi isn’t comfortable leading off, so if the Red Sox want to get him out of his slump, the logical place to start is moving him somewhere else in the order.
That isn’t to say Benintendi’s issues will all magically be solved once he’s not hitting at the top of the batting order anymore. The hard truth for Red Sox fans to accept is that Benintendi is not an All-Star caliber outfielder. The years of hype were all for nothing. At his best, Andrew Benintendi is average. At his worst, he’s quite literally the worst hitter in the majors. At this point, the Red Sox and their fans would gladly accept average. Unfortunately, if you were among those who thought Benintendi could fill the void left by Mookie Betts, you were wrong. Don’t feel too badly though, for that group likely also includes Red Sox owner John Henry.
Barring a miracle, it feels like it’s time to start excluding Andrew Benintendi from conversations regarding the Red Sox future. To categorize him as a member of Boston’s promising young core and someone that will be a leader of the team beyond 2021 is fallacious.
Photo: (Barry Chin – Boston Globe)