Chris Sale isn’t the only Red Sox player submerged in a baffling 2019 struggle.
A year ago, Andrew Benintendi was nearly named an All-Star. He entered the break with a .297/.380/.517 line, an extra-base machine who had 14 homers, 25 doubles, and five triples through 91 games, precisely the sort of profile that led the Red Sox to draft him with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
One year later, the hard contact no longer comes with the steadiness of a metronome. Benintendi is hitting .268/.346/.424 with seven homers and 32 extra-base hits. His strikeout rate is up considerably (a career-high 23.0 percent) and he’s been inconsistent not just offensively but also defensively, where he has been (according to Defensive Runs Saved) a below-average player (three runs worse than average) as opposed to an above-average one (four runs above average) in 2018 who was a Gold Glove finalist in left field.
Another layer of frustration arrived on Saturday night, when Benintendi not only went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout, but also failed to catch a fly ball in front of the wall.
“I just thought I was closer to the Wall than I was,” said Benintendi. “I should have made that play, obviously.”
The misplay somehow seemed to encapsulate the woes of this year for the just-turned-25-year-old.
“Last year, obviously we made the routine play, but last year we made the extraordinary play,” sighed Benintendi. “But that wasn’t an extraordinary play. I should have had that, I had two [on Friday] where one hits my glove and pops out and another was pretty close. Me, personally, I feel like I haven’t come up with a few that I should have.”
Benintendi’s deep sigh was three months of disappointment contained in a single exhalation. The outfielder has wrestled with his own performance and expectations before — whether as a freshman at Arkansas trying to play through injury in 2014 or as a big league rookie finding his way in 2017 — but suggests this is different.
“This feels worse. In 2017, it was my first full season, so I expected some frustrating times, but it seems like this whole year, I’ve been grinding and trying to find stuff,” said Benintendi. “It’s just not going. I haven’t hit a stride or anything right now. This is the most frustrated I’ve been, for sure.”
He expressed weary hope that a reversal is possible, mindful of the four-hit game he had just before the All-Star break.
“It just takes a blooper, I guess,” said Benintendi.
But for now, much like Sale, the inability of a hitter as gifted as Benintendi to achieve more sustainable success remains a riddle that has hindered the Red Sox in their search for consistency.