Is Andrew Benintendi the Real Deal?

The expectations were high for the rookie left fielder coming into the season. He was slated to be the youngest day one starter in left field since Carl Yastrzemski. His swing is so natural the guys in the NESN booth were comparing it to Red Sox greats like Fred Lynn and Carl Yastrzemski. He was batting second between former All-Star Dustin Pedroia and 2016 All-Star runner up Mookie Betts. But did any of that phase the 22 year old rookie? Considering that through the 18 games he’s played this season Andrew Benintendi is slashing a fantastic .347/.415/.444 with 11 RBIs, it’s beginning to look like the answer is no.

Benintendi had his first career 5 for 5 day in the 6-2 victory against the Orioles on Sunday April 23rd, becoming the youngest Red Sox player to accomplish such a feat since Tony Conigliaro did it 50 years prior in April of 1967 against the Yankees. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Benintendi is in some good company here; he is 166 days younger than Babe Ruth was when the Bambino had his first career 5 for 5 game. Good on you, Benny.

With a little under 20 games under his belt this season, we have to ask if he going to be able to keep this up for the rest of the season. As is often the case, let’s look to his numbers to find out.

Here you can see that through 18 games Benintendi is hitting all over about 75% of that strike zone. The only place pitchers have been able to take advantage of has been the upper inside part of the zone, where even the best hitters in the game struggle to get consistent hits. Comparing his hit map to his contact map tells an even better story.

He may not be getting hits from that part of the zone, but he sure is making contact there. The high contact rates tell us that he’s getting the bat on the ball, but that all that good contact isn’t necessarily translating into hits. Yet. More and more of those well hit balls are going to start dropping in for hits.

So it looks like that .347 average didn’t happen by accident. There is no reason to expect these good contact rates and hit percentages to just drop off a cliff without any cause. If Andrew Beninitedi manages to stay healthy this season, I believe he will be very special. He is my (perhaps slightly biased) early pick for Rookie of the Year.

I thought it might be interesting to look at his early stats against those of some previous AL ROYs and see how our boy Benny is shaping up compared to previous winners through their first full month in their rookie seasons.

First up is 2015 AL ROY Carlos Correa. He, like Benintendi, got off to a great offensive start, batting .315 through his first 20 games with 15 RBIs. He did come back to Earth, respectively speaking, finishing the season .279/.345/.512 with 68 RBIs in 99 games. Good enough for ROY honors, but hopefully that’s not the ceiling for Benintendi.

Next we can look at 2014 ROY Jose Abreu. He started off a bit slower that both Correa and Benintendi slashing .221/.325/.471 with 14 RBIs in his first 18 games. Abreu definitely took a little longer to acclimate to the bigs, but by the end of the season he was hitting .317/.383/.581 with 36 HRs and 107 RBIs. He was an offensive revelation for the White Sox and easily took home the ROY honors.

I figured it would be fitting to compare Benintendi to the last Red Sox rookie to take home the hardware, the man he’s currently batting behind, Dustin Pedroia. Pedey struggled mightily to begin the ‘07 season, batting just .189/.317/.245 with 2 RBIs through his first 20 games. Those struggles didn’t last for long, and he finished the ‘07 season with a .317/.380/.442 batting line and a World Series ring to go with it.

It’s apparent that Benintendi is off to a much hotter start than any of these previous winners were. If he can maintain this level of offensive dominance it’s possible the Fred Lynn comparisons won’t end at his swing. Lynn in 1975 took home both the AL MVP and the ROY, a feat that has only been matched once since (Ichiro in 2001).

It’s far too early to put Benintendi’s name in the MVP race, with players like Mike Trout in the conference, and Mookie Betts on his own team. But if the electric rookie can maintain his blazing start, come the All-Star break in July, it’s going to become difficult to ignore.