BOSTON -- The breakout season that Andrew Benintendi expected for himself in 2019 instead became a battle for survival.
The Red Sox left fielder spent much of the season trying to keep his head above water, and he at least did that, slashing .266/.343/.431 with 13 homers, 40 doubles and 68 RBIs.
But after the glory of 2018, when Benintendi was a consistent force on offense and defense while helping lead Boston to a World Series championship, this was a step back that leaves him driven to rebound going forward.
“A big one,” Benintendi said. “I feel like there was always something. I’d figure one thing out, and then there would be another [issue]. Not as consistent as I’d like it to be. Pretty much there was one good stretch, a two-week stretch. Other than that, it was trying to basically just grind and get the job done. Hopefully I can learn from it.”
What went right?
The fact that Benintendi could belt 40 doubles in an off-year proves how well his stroke is suited for doubles-happy Fenway Park. He also made a strong improvement against lefties, notching a .796 OPS compared to .694 in ’18.
“I hit lefties better than righties, which is somewhat out of the norm for me,” Benintendi said. “I know I can hit lefties. I think if I hit righties the way I usually do, it’s a completely different year. I still feel like I hit a lot of doubles. There’s a lot that didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but there’s definitely some positives.”
What went wrong?
Benintendi struck out way too often -- 140 times to be exact.
“He has a few ideas about what he’s going to work on during the offseason and where we’re going to take him. This guy is going to bounce back,” manager Alex Cora said. “Look at his numbers, look at the doubles. Well, that’s a bad season. There’s just a few things he didn’t do this year that I think he’s going to get better at.”
Benintendi’s 13 homers were also a career-low in his three full seasons. However, the Red Sox aren’t worried about the power. In fact, that might be what got him into trouble. Benintendi worried too much about bulking up last offseason and it cost him some of his athleticism.
What is concerning is that Benintendi’s average went from .290 to .266 and his OBP went from .366 to .343.
When the Red Sox were fighting for playoff positioning from late July to mid-August, Benintendi picked a good time to have his best stretch of the season. From July 24 to Aug. 16, he looked like his 2018 self, putting together a line of .374/.418/.659 with four homers and 18 RBIs. He made a couple of adjustments to his swing, some of which were suggested by the man who has coached him his whole life -- his father Chris. But the momentum didn’t last. From Aug. 17 on, Benintendi hit .151 with just one homer in 93 at-bats.
If J.D. Martinez, as many people expect, opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent, the Red Sox are likely going to want Benintendi in the No. 2 or 3 spot in the batting order. Benintendi mainly hit fifth or sixth over the final four months of the season. Benintendi will be perfectly-suited to get back to the player who can score 100 runs and hit close to .300 if he gets back to a more athletic state of mind. If the Red Sox have a resurgence in 2020, Benintendi is likely to be a key reason why.
“When you guys ask me Feb. 15 who will be the bounce-back player [in 2020], Andrew will be the guy,” Cora said. “I do think he’s a 20-homer guy, 45-doubles, a complete player. A lot of people love the home runs, I love the complete player. He can be a .400-OBP guy with 20 bags, 20 homers, 45 doubles and play good defense. We’ll take that player.”