MLB The Show is THE greatest sports video game. To be fair, baseball is the easiest game to make due to the fundamental nature of baseball, which is essentially a one-on-one battle with cursory pieces in the background. Basketball, football, hockey, and soccer all have multiple players moving in synch simultaneously which increases the number of variables that need to be accounted for. Anyways, San Diego Studios has done a masterful job of putting the best product out there. This isn’t an ad for The Show, though, but it’s relevant for this post. In The Show, the X button is for a normal swing, the O button is for contact, and the square button is for power. But with great power comes great responsibility because while you can check your swing with the x and o buttons, it’s all or nothing with the square button. Now, I don’t use the square button much except in 2-0 or 3-0 counts. I prefer to just use the x button because even with the mashers, it’s more than enough to drive the ball out of the park. In my early days of playing, though, I used to utilize the square button with the contact guys in favorable counts. There would be a stretch when I’d bop some over the fence which would get me to start utilizing the square button with those hitters in other counts. Like Pookie from New Jack City, the more I hit out, the more my thumb moved to the left side of the controller. Even while the average and OBP declined, and the strikeouts increased, the adrenaline rush from connecting kept the gig going. Kind of like our debt-fueled economy, which is a separate topic for another day. This reminds me of Andrew Benintendi. He always showed some pop, so he wasn’t some Juan Pierre-esque slap hitter, but he was known more for his power/speed combo. But then he started sniffing the power and bulked up, gaining over 20 pounds of muscle, mashing that square button. The strikeouts increased while the average and overall production decreased. As a result, he is no longer in Boston. Trash or treasure?
Benintendi is 26 years old, 5′ 10″, and in the 170 to 180-pound range. After being named the Baseball America College Player of the Year in 2015, the Red Sox selected him with the seventh overall pick. He rose through the ranks quickly and made the bigs in 2016. In just two years, he became a regular and went 20/20 with a 10.6% walk rate, 17% strikeout rate, .154 ISO, and .271/.352/.424 slash.
Then after the 2018 season, Benintendi bulked up. Chicks dig the long ball, so I get it. It went all downhill after leveling up in the power department, though. The production declined across the board, only to get worse in 2020 before the Red Sox pressed eject and traded him to the Royals.
Let’s dig in to see if there’s anything to mine here.
In 2019, the walk rate ticked down to 9.6% from 10.7%. Not bad, but the strikeout rate spiked to 22.8% from 16%. The triple-slash and ISO, though, weren’t too far off from the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The Statcast numbers show that the power boost was for real. The average exit velocity ticked up, the hard-hit rate increased, the barrel rate went up, and the launch angle went from 12.8% to a career-high 17.5%.
The plate discipline numbers are where you see the most influential changes and are probably the reason why the Red Sox traded him. He started swinging much more: inside the zone, outside the zone, perhaps trying to open a portal to the Twilight Zone. The swinging strike rate went from 7.5% to 11.6%. The contact rate went from 83.5% to 77.3%.
His job was to be a table-setter at the top of the lineup for the big boppers behind. Instead, he tried to be a bopper himself. After batting from the one or two spots for the first two months, the team finally moved him down to the fifth or sixth positions, as the slumps and inconsistency became more pronounced.
In 2020, the team finally had enough. The slash was .103/.314/.128 with a 32.7% strikeout rate and .026 ISO. The swinging strike rate went up to 13.5% while the contact rate cratered to 69.6%. At least he didn’t swing as much compared to the 2019 season. Now, take all these numbers with a grain of salt because the sample size was only 52 plate appearances before he got shut down due to a rib injury. With that said, Shakira just appeared in front of me and is singing that numbers don’t lie.
Throughout this preseason, I’ve written about players who have been devalued due to recency bias. Before the 2019 season, Benintendi was being selected as the 31st overall player on NFBC. The following year, he was the 116th player drafted. This season? 209. The risk/reward ratio will be mighty favorable if he can get back to 2017/2018 levels.
I asked Ralph what he thought of Benintendi and he replied:
I think he was a bad fit for Fenway, tried to muscle up, and it f***ed up his swing. Seems to be going center-oppo more again and has lost the extra bulk.
Ralph is the EF Hutton of fantasy baseball. When he speaks, we listen.
The loss of extra bulk is the key. Best shape of his life!!! We usually clown that phrase but it’s apt in this particular case. Benintendi recognized a problem and worked hard to address it. That change should also benefit his approach at the plate. Rather than selling out for power, he will likely return to the style which brought him success in the first place, which is line drives, getting on base, and spraying the ball all over the field. With a lighter frame, the speed should return, which provided much of the allure for Benintendi in the first place. Over the last three seasons, the Royals have been top five in stolen base attempts per game, with last season perched at the top. The culture in Kansas City will enhance his speed while not pushing him towards the three-outcomes that many other teams propagate.
Benintendi is slated to bat second for the Royals. We know what his ceiling is, and if he can return to that level, he will be the fantasy MVP. I did put him down for Comeback Player of the Year so I put my money where my mouth is. The prediction piece was free? Does mental money count? Anyways, if he bombs, the cost is so cheap that there are no worries of dumping him in the trash. I like that risk/reward ratio. TREASURE