Andrew Benintendi never turned the corner this season.
At each step, like his Red Sox club, he was always grinding, trying to figure out a swing that he would feel was right one second then gone the next.
“He’s missing his pitches,” manager Alex Cora said of Benintendi’s recent skid, which has him hitting just .150 in the month of September. “Back to expanding the zone up and down. That’s something we have to work on the rest of the season and obviously the offseason.”
Benintendi holds an 11.6 percent swing-and-miss-rate, the highest of his career. He’s also chased outside the zone 33.5 percent of the time, also a career high. As a result, Benintendi has struck out 131 times this season, again a career high.
“This kid striking out 131 times, that’s not normal,” Cora said. “Outs are outs, but, no, I think that’s one of the things that happened this year. There are too many strikeouts on this team right now.”
The team striking out more than last year might be more anecdotal than factual. The Sox struck out 1,253 times last year. With two weeks to play this season, they have 1,252 strikeouts. The club will eclipse last season’s total, but not by a wide margin.
In the case of Benintendi, though, it’s especially jarring because strikeouts aren’t his game — or, as Cora intimated, he can’t afford strikeouts to become a part of his game.
“Hopefully, that will change,” said Benintendi, who knows he’s chasing pitches that have led to the strikeouts. “I feel like, over the last two and a half or three years, I kind of controlled the strike zone. I’ve kind of lost that this year. I might be overthinking things and panicking a little bit.”
For what it’s worth, Benintendi is still hitting .271 with 39 doubles. But that’s not the player the Red Sox signed to be their everyday left fielder. His homer total is down to 13 this season. The OPS, which was .830, is .792. Not bad, but not what the Sox envisioned.
“The extra-base hits are the extra-base hits,” Cora said. “I do believe he’s a 20-homer guy, 45 doubles. A lot of people love the home runs and all of that, but I love the complete player.”
Benintendi has struggled on defense, too. The Sox outfield was heralded as the best in all of baseball last season, but Benintendi has been the obvious weak link this year. While Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts remain elite, Benintendi’s been the outlier. He’s made some bad reads on balls throughout the year and misplayed some when at the wall in left. He went from a 3.8 ultimate zone rating last season to 1.5 this year, according to Fangraphs. Per Baseball Savant, Benintendi ranks in just the sixth percentile on outs above average and the 27th percentile on outfield jumps.
At the plate, though, is where the Red Sox have missed Benintendi the most. He and Cora sat down last weekend and devised a plan for what they feel needs to happen in the offseason. Benintendi told Cora how he’s going to get back on track.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple and find my path, my lower half, and work on my stride,” Benintendi said. “I’m kind of in between right now between striding and having to kind of just step. [It’s a matter of] trying to find an equal balance between those two.”
Cora mentioned that Benintendi was a bit banged up to start the year, which could have thrown off his mechanics.
“It felt like he was off from there,” Cora said. “He wasn’t able to hit the ball in the air as consistent. He wasn’t able to go the other way consistently. He wasn’t able to catch up with fastballs. He can do that. We know that.”
Cora is confident that Benintendi will improve next season. He went 2 for 4 in the team’s series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies, his first multihit game since Sept. 3.
“Maybe seeing a few fall will help get me going these last couple of weeks,” Benintendi said. “I just have to go up there and keep swinging.”
He’s seen them fall in the past, too. Is that something he could perhaps lean on?
“Maybe,” Benintendi said. “But that’s also the past. I’m just trying to break things down and not start over, but start fresh.”