Andrew Benintendi is a good baseball player. It is so easy to get caught up in Option A when you hear names like Juan Soto being thrown around. That’s why it’s necessary to remind yourself that this baseball team is better now than they were before they traded for Benintendi. It’s been impressive to see how he has successfully adapted his approach to Kauffman Stadium in the last year or so.
The All-Star’s successful change proves that Benintendi has extremely good feel for hitting. You may even say he is the anti-Joey Gallo in terms of approach and results. He lives off adjustments in the short- and long-term. While playing at Fenway Park, he learned how to pepper the Green Monster pretty well. His average launch angles to the opposite field in 2018 and 2019 were 26.0 and 31.6 degrees, respectively. He lived off that type of swing because it played well with the stadium. To be fair, that approach is more natural to his swing path, so it’ll be a trend throughout his career. However, in his very successful season this year, that figure has decreased to 23.8 degrees while he is going to the opposite field more than ever. It’s an important tidbit to consider.
When you look at Benintendi’s home run total on the season, you might be a little scared. A grand total of 3 in 390 plate appearances is approaching Isiah Kiner-Falefa territory. I wouldn’t worry too much though. Statcast tells us that he should have five on the season on average, and if he was in Yankee Stadium, it would be six. Last season, his xHR was 22.9, so unless Benintendi lost all his bat speed while maintaining health in his age-28 season, I’d say that he is still more than capable of hitting the long ball 15-20 times a year. His approach change is likely responsible for the decrease. In other words, it’s probably at least partially intentional.
That brings me to the ultimate question to which I have been hinting. Do we think Benintendi is capable of tweaking his approach/batted-ball profile to cater to Yankee Stadium’s short porch? If it wasn’t already clear to you, the most ideal change for Benintendi would be to turn some of those fly balls to left field into fly balls to right field. This season, his average launch angle on pull side batted balls is 10.9 degrees, the lowest mark of his career, excluding his injury-shortened COVID season. Average launch angle isn’t the best way to analyze this, but it is telling of how he changed his approach on the surface.
If Benintendi continues this approach, will it limit his ceiling in Yankee Stadium? It’s a big question, but it needs to be answered. It’s easy to argue that Benintendi is the exact kind of hitter who would most benefit from taking advantage of the short porch. He is a lefty who does not have extreme power, but the natural loft in his swing means he could probably hit more home runs in the Bronx than most ballparks.
On one hand, there is the example of Anthony Rizzo. He sold out for home runs to right field this year, and he’s on track to crush more dingers than he has in any season since his Cubs prime. On the other hand, there is DJ LeMahieu. He has stated that the Yankees empowered him to be himself upon his arrival to the Bronx. He didn’t need to change much at all to be well-suited for the stadium.
I think Benintendi falls somewhere between those two. His fly balls to left field may actually be a very good thing. Left-center is the biggest part of the outfield. If he can consistently spray that gap, he is going to have a lot of success. Combine that with low line drives to right field, and his power output might play up. DJ consistently hits home runs just over the right-field wall. He is stronger than Benintendi, but the reason I bring it up is because No. 18 can do the same on pull-side line drives.
This is years ago, but I can see it playing nicely into what the new Yankees outfielder has done this season playing primarily in Kauffman. It could be wishful thinking, but I’m convincing myself more and more as I write this article. I mean, think about it. Hitters who benefit most from shorter porches are not big power guys like Joey Gallo; it’s the DJ LeMahieu and Alex Bregmans of the world. I think Benintendi’s feel for hitting and previous demonstrated ability to make quick adjustments are all working in his favor. So what’s the conclusion here? Benintendi might not to change all that much, but he has shown that he can if it plays well with where he is playing most of his games.