Andrew Benintendi's Amazing Catch Is His Latest Contribution to the Red Sox' Playoff Push
"This is the big leagues, and that was a big league play."
That's what David Ortiz had to say about his teammate and rookie Andrew Benintendi after Monday night's 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. Currently playing in his 20th season in the Majors, Big Papi knows what he's talking about, but here's what he was referring to if you don't want to take his word for it.
Andrew Benintendi with a legitimate bid for catch of the year. #LloveTheGamehttps://t.co/MuiFRzhQRo
— MLB (@MLB) August 23, 2016
Per Statcast, Benintendi covered an impressive 91.8 feet on the catch. His first step took 0.53 seconds, and he reached a maximum speed of 16.3 miles per hour. Putting it all together, his route efficiency on the amazing grab was 95.3%.
Despite the spectacular catch, Benintendi has begun his career with poor defensive numbers. It's a tiny sample size -- just 129 innings in left field -- but he currently owns a -13.8 UZR/150. For those unaware of what UZR/150 is, FanGraphs describes it as "the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games." It's way too early to call Benintendi a poor fielder. FanGraphs recommends using three years of UZR data to determine the defensive value of a player, and Benintendi is just 19 games into his career.
Minor League Career
The main reason Benintendi was called-up is because of his bat. The 22-year-old flew through Boston's farm system after being selected seventh overall in the 2015 draft. Starting his professional career in Low-A, it took him 35 games (and a .435 wOBA) to earn the promotion to Single-A, where he improved his wOBA to .451 across 19 games.
This was good enough for Boston to start Benintendi in High-A for the 2016 season, where he impressed again, posting a .430 wOBA over 34 games. His play warranted another promotion, this time to Double-A. There, Benintendi made his longest stint in one place in the minors, playing 63 games. His wOBA fell to .384, but this was still the 17th best total among Double-A hitters with at least 250 plate appearances and only one player with a better clip was younger than him.
Major League Career
In 68 plate appearances with the Boston Red Sox, he's slashing .306/.353/.468 with a .350 wOBA (league average is .318), including 1 home run.
Let's try this again - THE FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HOME RUN FOR ANDREW BENINTENDI!! https://t.co/bmDMhJ85hi
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) August 21, 2016
Benintendi's tater was only the second home run that Shane Greene has allowed to a left-handed hitter all season, although the rookie's .161 ISO leaves a little to be desired as it is below the current league average (.163). However, seeing as how Benintendi never posted an ISO of below .219 throughout his minor league career, this suggests that his power potential will start to show as he continues to get his feet wet in the big leagues.
The lack of fly balls he's hit so far may also have something to do with why his ISO is fairly low. Benintendi's fly-ball rate is just 28.3%, well below the league average of 34.5 percent. Not hitting fly balls isn't necessarily a bad thing, but they tend to go for extra-base hits more often than ground balls. Plus, a hitter obviously needs to put the ball in the air in order to hit a home run, so not doing so will usually negatively affect a hitter's ISO.
Fortunately for Benintendi's sake, he's making up for the lack of fly balls with line drives. He owns a 32.6% line-drive rate, which is the eighth-highest mark in baseball since he made his debut and well above the league average of 20.7%. In addition to that, his hard-hit rate is an impressive 36.2%, again significantly above league average (31.5%). This helps explain why he has a high average but a low ISO.
Another reason for the high average -- and a potential warning sign -- is Benintendi's batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His currently sits at .391, which is far above the league average of .300. Some of this inflated total can be attributed to his line drive percentage and hard-hit rate. Line drives and hard-hit balls tend to turn into hits more often than weakly hit balls, but it's a virtual given that this mark will regress at some point.
The tiny sample size should not be overlooked, however, as it's possible to see abnormal totals over small periods of time. For example, for the month of August, there are currently 29 hitters with a higher BABIP than Benintendi.
Our projections only have Benintendi receiving 22 more plate appearances over the rest of the season, hitting .250 with a lowly .586 OPS (it's currently .821). However, Boston has won 9 of their last 11 games -- Benintendi has started each contest -- and moved into a tie for first place in their division with last night's win, meaning Benintendi is likely to stay in the lineup.
The recent surge has Boston up to second in our power rankings, and we give them an 86.7% chance of making the playoffs. The American League East race couldn't be much tighter as we give the Toronto Blue Jays (46.6%) a slight edge to win the division over Boston (45.6%).
Especially if he keeps making big league plays.