Andrew Benintendi had a forgettable 2019 season. The Boston Red Sox can ill afford a repeat performance from the young outfielder this season.

After two-plus seasons to begin his career where Benintendi posted an OPS of over .800 while hitting .282 in the process, the outfielder struggled his way to a .266 average and .774 OPS in 2019. Unsurprisingly, his struggles mirrored those of the team.

Now, entering his fourth full season, Benintendi must take the next step in his career. The Red Sox need it more than ever, especially after just trading their franchise cornerstone, Mookie Betts, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s impossible to replace Betts’ overall impact, but Benintendi is one of a few players who must increase their production to offset the offensive impact Betts had.

With more than 2,000 career plate appearances under his belt, it’s hard to point at Benintendi’s inexperience as a reason for any problems. Luckily for the Red Sox, he already is taking steps to ensure 2020 is an improvement. A year ago, Benintendi feared he’d lose weight (and strength) over the course of the season and added bulk before reporting. Now, he has reversed course and reported to spring training Thursday looking lighter.

“He’s in better shape,” Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke told reporters Thursday in Fort Myers. “I know he comes to spring training realizing he needs to be heavy because he always loses weight and doesn’t want to be too thin. But this year, he came lighter. Hopefully we can keep the weight on him. I think it will help his running, it’ll help everything.”

Benintendi’s offseason work also included a visit from hitting coach Tim Hyers and new assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse. The tinkering with Benintendi’s swing began there. A big focus of his ongoing work also is likely to focus on pitch selection. In his first two-plus seasons, Benintendi did a good job of laying off pitches out of the strike zone.

PERCENTAGE OF SWINGS AT PITCHES OUTSIDE STRIKE ZONE
2016: 25.2
2017: 29.0
2018: 28.4
(per Fangraphs)

Then, in 2019, Benintendi swung at 33 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone. That’s still a relatively modest number — the league leader was 48.8 percent — but it adds up. Benintendi’s walk rate dropped, while his strikeout rate jumped considerably. And again, his batting average fell, despite a .333 batting average on balls in play, so he might have actually been kind of lucky.

“I think he can be a little more selective,” Roenicke said. “I think he’s pretty selective anyway, but when he starts chasing out of the zone, I know that bothered him last year because he’s a guy who’s pretty disciplined at the plate. He’ll take his walks. He’ll get deep in counts. I know he chased a lot more pitches than he wanted to last year.”

Improving upon pitch selection could be even more important for Benintendi in 2020, as he’s a candidate to hit leadoff for Boston.

Regardless, getting Benintendi feeling good could go a long way in getting him back on track.

“All of that, it still comes down to this confidence thing,” Roenicke added. “When you’re good and you’re coming up there and you know you’re going well, you see, your vision is better. You see the ball better and you don’t chase as much. Then when you’re scuffling, you’re not sure, ‘Do I be more patient? Do I be more aggressive?’ and then things start going up and down and wide and it gets difficult.”

Thumbnail photo via Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Images