Andrew Benintendi is having his best season since 2018, when he finished with five Wins Above Replacement and helped the Boston Red Sox win a World Series Championship. This time around, he’ll be helping the New York Yankees compete for a title.
Benintendi’s batting average is far and away the best of his career, and his on-base percentage is a career-high too. He isn’t hitting for much power — his slugging percentage is below .400 and he has just three home runs on the year — but he is making up for it with his sheer number of hits. Benintendi leads the majors in singles this season.
The 28-year-old was rewarded for his strong performance to start the season with an All-Star selection, the first of his career. He was also rewarded with the chance to once again play for a contending team.
But now that Benintendi is suiting up in Yankee pinstripes, a key question arises: can he keep it up? There is no doubt he has been great so far this season, but what does the underlying data reveal about his future?
High BABIP and Low xBA
While most of Benintendi’s numbers have been excellent, two advanced metrics stand out as potential areas of concern: BABIP and xBA.
His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season is abnormally high. It ranks among the top ten in baseball, and it is far higher than his career average. Benintendi has always posted an above-average BABIP, but nothing like this.
Posting a higher-than-usual BABIP is often a sign that a player is due for regression, which is bad news for Benintendi. If his BABIP were to regress to his career norm, his batting average would plummet and so would his offensive value.
Benintendi’s expected batting average (xBA) is further cause for concern. xBA uses exit velocity and launch angle to estimate the likelihood that any ball put in play will be a hit. Benintendi is significantly outperforming his xBA, which is a further sign he might be due for some regression.
Making the Right Adjustments
Thankfully for Benintendi (and the Yankees), BABIP and xBA don’t tell the full story.
While a high BABIP and a low xBA can be signs that a player is going to backslide, neither can perfectly predict the future. There are adjustments a player can make to increase his BABIP long-term, and there is more to batting average than just exit velocity and launch angle.
In Benintendi’s case, he has made a pretty big offensive adjustment this season: he is pulling the ball far less than in years past. As a left-handed batter, that means he is hitting far fewer balls towards right field.
In general, the fewer balls a hitter pulls, the higher his BABIP will be. Benintendi cut his pull rate by more than a quarter, and that goes a long way towards explaining why his BABIP is so much higher than usual.
xBA does not account for directionality, so this also helps to explain why Benintendi’s actual batting average is so much higher than his xBA.
The Kauffman of It All
The ballpark where Benintendi has played more than half his games is also a factor in this equation. Kauffman Stadium is one of the easiest stadiums to get a hit in, according to the park effect metrics from Baseball Savant. The confines of Kauffman also make it very difficult to hit a home run, especially for left-handed batters.
This ballpark has certainly had an effect on Benintendi’s numbers this season, and it can partially explain why he has hit for such a high batting average and such little power.
With that in mind, should the Yankees be worried about what will happen to their new outfielder’s bat now that he’s out of Kansas City? Probably not.
For one thing, while Yankee Stadium is not designed to allow nearly as many singles as Kauffman, it is a home run paradise, especially for lefties. Benintendi might lose a few ticks of batting average in New York, but his power numbers should get a bit of a boost to even things out.
Moreover, Benintendi won’t be too affected by his home ballpark anyway. He’s actually hitting for a higher average on the road than at home this season, and he hasn’t hit for much power in any stadium he’s visited.
New York Ready
Andrew Benintendi's first Yankee Stadium roll call!
— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) July 28, 2022
Andrew Benintendi should do just fine for himself in New York. He has been hitting the ball to all fields this season, and this adjustment has turned him into one of the premiere contact hitters in the sport. With any luck, he’ll unlock a bit more power in Yankee Stadium too.
Benintendi’s offensive surge this season is very real, and he’s going to play a key role in New York’s lineup down the stretch.
Featured Illustration by Cody Rogers (@CodyRogers10)