Benintendi at his best when hitting to all fields

Outfielder giving Red Sox what they need out of two-hole

October 4th, 2018

BOSTON -- It was near the end of April, with 's batting average hovering barely above .200, that Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers and assistant Andy Barkett shepherded the young phenom into the Fenway Park video room. They showed him examples of pitches he should be hitting. They showed him the types of offerings he should be avoiding. They encouraged him to stop trying to blast everything over the fence.
"We need you to do what you do best, which is a short swing," Barkett recalls the two coaches telling Benintendi, "and hit line drives all over the yard."
The result has been a hitter not exactly like the one the Red Sox thought they selected seventh overall in the 2015 Draft, but nonetheless a critical component of their American League Division Series lineup against the Yankees. Frequently sandwiched between MVP candidates and J.D. Martinez in the batting order, Benintendi hit .301 with an .850 OPS from April 26 through the end of the season.
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He never demonstrated the type of over-the-fence power that his 20-homer campaign hinted at last year as a rookie, hitting zero long balls in September and just three over the regular season's final 76 games. He finished with 16. But the Red Sox believe Benintendi is at his best when he's spraying balls foul line to foul line, allowing Betts and Martinez to do the heavier lifting.
"It doesn't concern me," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Benintendi's power outage. "I think it's more about that than him actually not hitting for power."
Consider: Despite the lack of home runs, Benintendi ranked third on the Sox with 41 doubles, third in on-base percentage and fourth in slugging. Routinely attacking balls on the outer half of the plate (he swung at more of them than all but 16 left-handed hitters in baseball), Benintendi led the Red Sox with 36 percent of his hits to the opposite field, according to Statcast™ data.
"Listen, he's hitting in the two-hole for us," Barkett said. "He's on base a lot. He gives you great at-bats, knows how to handle the bat. … Usually the power for smaller-framed guys develops in time. He's going to hit 20 homers in the big leagues, and he's going to hit 20 homers for lots of years. But he's still young. He's still developing. He's still learning himself and learning his swing."

Barkett described Benintendi as "one of the most low-maintenance guys we have, as far as simplicity of routine," limiting his daily work to a few swings off the tee, a bit of soft toss and then outdoor batting practice -- and that's it. Benintendi does not obsess over drills and mechanics the way some hitters do. When he tries to hit home runs, that's when Benintendi's issues surface. When his swing is more neutral, that's when Benintendi -- even in this age of launch-angle obsession -- is at his best.
And the Red Sox will need Benintendi at his best throughout October, beginning Friday in ALDS Game 1. With Betts and Martinez undoubtedly the focus of New York's attention, it's Benintendi's simple stroke that could make the difference.
"We hold high expectations for ourselves, and nothing else matters," Benintendi said. "We're going to go out there and play hard and hopefully make a deep run."