Should Red Sox Fans Be Concerned with Andrew Benintendi’s Slump?

Andrew Benintendi ended his first season in the majors with an .835 OPS (118 OPS+), batting .295 over 34 games in 2016. He started 2017 just as well, putting up an .870 OPS in April, and then went into a horrendous slump in May that included a 26-at-bat hitless streak. With any rookie, especially one as young as the 22-year-old Benintendi, there is always a concern that major-league pitchers may have discovered a fatal weakness that they can exploit. On the other hand, even the best veteran suffers through slumps. Are there any clues as to which this may be?

Splitting pitch types into the three major families (fastballs, breaking pitches, and offspeed pitches) and looking at Benintendi’s success with each pitch type in the the different subzones in and around the strike zone, a couple of things stand out. First, Benintendi’s overall effectiveness on fastballs hasn’t changed much, but instead of hitting over most of the zone as his did in 2016, in 2017 he has been hot on the inside half (especially inside and up) while losing contact on the outer half. At the same time, pitchers are tending to throw their fastballs more frequently to the outer half. (Pitch location is shown as the grey contours in the background of each plot.)

His effectiveness against offspeed stuff has dropped slightly, but not dramatically. The biggest difference in 2017 compared to 2016 is Benintendi’s hitting against breaking pitches, going from an excellent 16.8 total bases per 100 breaking pitches in 2016, to a sub-average 7.2 TB/100 in 2017. Breaking pitch location, like the fastballs, has also moved to the outside bottom corner of the zone, instead of averaging in the center of the zone as in 2017:

We can look at this in more detail, breaking down by month the pitch families he’s seen and his total bases per 100 pitches against each:

Again, we can see that his effectiveness against fastballs has been fairly consistent, with a small surge this April, while in May of this season he has been very ineffective against breaking pitches while hitting offspeed pitches very well.

On the other hand, looking at pitch frequency (the chart on the left) there has been little or no change in the proportion of pitches thrown to Benintendi, so there is as yet no indication that scouts believe Benintendi is suddenly susceptible to breaking pitches. Considering his history, and the fact that he has been able to hit breaking stuff well for three quarters of his major-league career, it seems most likely that this is a temporary slump, and that Benintendi will bounce back and begin to hit well again at some point this season.


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Featured image courtesy of Christopher Evans.

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