The Yankees finally won, managing to avoid a four-game home sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays. The games don’t get any easier with the Bombers set for a double-date with Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. One win does not the end of a slump make, and the team has to find some consistency if they want to break out of this extended stretch of poor form. One player who will be critical to continuing to build positive momentum is Andrew Benintendi.
The Yankees brought in Benintendi effectively as a replacement for Joey Gallo, whom they shipped out to the Dodgers five days after trading with Kansas City for Benintendi. At the time of his trade, Benintendi was third in the AL with a .320 average and was one of five qualified players in the AL to bat over .300 with a walk rate north of 10 percent, and it was easy to see why the Yankees would prioritize his high contact, high on-base skillset after the low contact, high strikeout approach of Gallo failed miserably.
Well, things rarely ever go as planned, as their new outfielder went 1-for-23 to start his Yankees career. It was easy to feel like another promising player had caught Galloitis upon joining the Bombers, seven game sample size notwithstanding. Granted, everything feels like the end of the world when the team is playing its worst baseball of the season.
Fortunately, it appears Benintendi is beginning to heat up starting with the series away to St. Louis. Even though the Yankees got swept, Benintendi was one of the lone bright spots of that three-game set. In the games since, the lefty outfielder has been one of the few above-average contributors at the plate, batting .268/.328/.482 with seven doubles and a 131 wRC+, culminating in his first home run as a Yankee yesterday afternoon to give his team an invaluable victory over the Blue Jays.
While with KC, Benintendi combined his elite pitch recognition abilities with a high contact tool to slash line drives around the spacious confines of the Kauffman Stadium outfield.
It’s possible that his numbers were buffed a tad by the generous dimensions of the outfield grass and are being inversely affected by the bandbox qualities down either line at Yankee Stadium — something Josh dove into with extensive detail and is an absolute must-read. However, it’s not hard to see from these clips an almost left-handed DJ LeMahieu skillset being able to stay on fastballs to the opposite field as well as pull offspeed for power.
These qualities disappeared in his first seven games in pinstripes. While he was walking at a stellar 27.6 percent clip, Benintendi just wasn’t doing damage on hitters’ pitches. Case in point, the struggles appeared most pronounced against fastballs right down the middle.
These are the pitches that hitters should be doing the most damage against, and yet I count a called strike, a whiff, a GIDP, and a foul. To my eyes, this seems like an issue with timing. He is late on all four pitches, his pitch recognition lagging as he settled in with his new team.
With a week to get comfortable in his new surroundings, I think we can say Benintendi is finally finding his footing in pinstripes. Peep this double vs. Boston on August 13th. He’s right on time against a mid-90s heater and drills it off the wall in dead center:
Of course, we also have his home run from yesterday. He’s able to recognize slider, allowing him to wait back long enough on the hanger to keep it fair into the second deck in right.
It seems Benintendi has recovered the Kansas City version that made him one of the most coveted trade chips at the deadline. He’s done this by making better swing decisions and improving his contact quality against mistake pitches. He’s done a good job laying off chase pitches all year, but it’s the aggressiveness against pitches in the zone that’s key. While with the Royals, Benintendi carried a 76 percent zone swing rate. That dropped to 60 percent during his first week with the Yankees and is back up to 68.3 percent since.
He’s also gotten back to punishing the pitches he should be punishing. In Kansas City, Benintendi did damage (made quality of contact that classified as a barrel, solid, or flare/burner) on 18.3 percent of pitches over the heart of the plate as defined by Statcast to go along with a 88.4 average exit velocity overall. In his first seven Yankees games, those plummeted to 4.2 percent and 85.7 mph before recovering to 14.1 percent and 89.5 mph across his last 16 appearances.
Andrew Benintendi was brought in to provide the Yankees above-average offensive production from one of the starting outfield spots not occupied by Aaron Judge. With Gallo now playing on the opposite coast and Aaron Hicks completely cooked, it becomes all the more important that Benintendi provide a consistent presence in the lineup. After watching him settle in over the last two-plus weeks, it looks like the Yankees are finally getting returns on the trade to acquire him from the Royals.