When the Yankees acquired Andrew Benintendi back in July, they expected a high-OBP and a strong hit tool. His wRC+ dropped from a 126 wRC+ with Kansas City to a 111 wRC+ in New York, but he seemed to pick things up as he got comfortable in the Bronx. It seemed as if Benintendi was actively making an adjustment to try to hit for more power. While many Yankee fans would be put off by a contact hitter trying to hit for more power, it’s important to note that Benintendi still maintained a strikeout rate under 20% with the Yankees, and the increase in power output and improved batted ball splits could lead to improved production at the plate.
While Andrew Benintendi on the surface isn’t a player we should look at as a massive impact bat, there’s the potential for the 28 year-old outfielder to produce at the level Red Sox fans hoped he would when he first came up as a top prospect.
Yankees Need a Reliable Leadoff Bat
The Yankees have struggled to find a consistent leadoff hitter with the turbulent injury history of DJ LeMahieu across the past two seasons. Benintendi can give the Yankees stability and strength at the leadoff spot and allow the Yankees to pencil him in there without much thought. He’s a hit machine who also knows how to work a walk, and quite frankly that’s all the Yankees need to justify leading him off. It’s important to have a designated leadoff bat that can reliably be put at the top of the lineup so that Judge can remain the 2-hitter for important games and the majority of the season.
Benintendi serves a necessary role for the top of the Yankee lineup; he’s going to put the ball in play and he’s going to find a way to get on-base. The Yankees just need a form of consistency at the top of their lineup, especially someone that can be there beyond 2023. Ultimately, this team is trying to win now but they don’t want their window to close in just a year; they need as many cracks at the playoffs as possible. Stability is important in that regard, and having a supplemental piece to your strong core is extremely vital; you’re only as good as your team is.
Improving Baserunning Value
Bigger bases in 2023 means more baserunning aggression. Players who have enough speed or baserunning acumen are going to get a boost to their stolen base total, thus making them bigger weapons for their club. This seems like a switch that could have massive effects on how teams strategize and also on how teams will call pitches in-game with runners on since they’ll be forced to pay attention to first base more often. I imagine the Yankees are going to try to take advantage of this change, and Benintendi can help them with that.
Benintendi went from a -1.3 BsR with the Royals to a 2.0 BsR with the Yankees, and swiped 4 bags in 5 attempts in just 33 games. Benintendi stole 12 bases in his 1.5 years in KC at the cost of 11 times caught stealing; not great. Benintendi just made better baserunning decisions with the Bronx Bombers, and that’s all he needed to do since he’s already athletic. His 53rd Percentile for Sprint Speed is solid, and if he’s able to catch pitchers off guard he most certainly could post double-digit stolen base totals.
Benintendi truly stands out as a strong leadoff option who has the upside to provide things the Yankees haven’t had out of their leadoff hitter in an extremely long time. Reliable speed with contact and strong OBP numbers from a left-handed hitter isn’t something you just find on the outfield market, and that’s what makes him appealing. This would suffice as enough data to support interest in Benintendi, but it’s not about interest; the question we look to answer is if Benintendi can move the needle for the Yankees.
There is one aspect to Benintendi’s game last season that was very subpar; and that was his power.
Getting More Pop Out of Andrew Benintendi
One interesting metric to look at when evaluating power output is Isolated Power (ISO), which subtracts a player’s batting average from their slugging percentage. In 2022, the league average ISO was .152, a mark Benintendi fell way short of in 2022. His .095 ISO was the 7th worst qualified mark in the league, and yet he posted a very strong 122 wRC+.
His .373 OBP was the 12th best mark in the sport, but what if he was able to trade-off some of his OBP for far better slugging? Part of slugging is pulling the ball, since pulled batted balls (specifically pulled flyballs) tend to do very well in the power department, but that also means added aggression at the plate.
In order to pull a ball you have to be out in front of the pitch, thus meaning you have to commit to a swing earlier. This leads to more chases and whiffs, which will result in a worse walk rate and higher strikeout rate, but it could also lead to better slugging numbers. Benintendi’s final 16 games as a Yankee showed drastic splits in the type of hitter he was:
- Final 16 Games
- 31.7% O-Swing% (27.4% O-Swing%)
- 10.6% Swinging Strike% (8.6% Swinging Strike%)
- 9.8% Barrel% (4.4% Barrel%)
- .200 ISO (.080 ISO)
- .517 SLG% (.382 SLG%)
While Benintendi was swinging at more pitches out the zone and whiffing more, his wRC+ over those 16 games was a 146. I don’t view Benintendi as a true talent 146 wRC+ hitter in the slightest, but perhaps this approach could help add some more power to his profile and to this lineup. Benintendi’s 2021 season is a great example of Benintendi’s ability to pull flyballs, posting a .166 ISO which was league-average. This on the surface seems rather unimpressive; why does a league-average ISO warrant praise? That’s because Statcast’s Park Factor metric says he would have had six extra HRs if he played in the Bronx, which meant he would’ve had a 23 HR season in 2021.
Past results aren’t always conclusive for future production, but the 20+ HR upside is still there for Benintendi. He reached a new high in Max Exit Velocity in 2022, registering a 109.8 MPH groundout with Kansas City. While 2022 was a stylistic change for Benny, it was one he had to make while in Kansas City since flyballs weren’t traveling to RF the way he imagined they could, but in the AL East those very same flyouts turn into HRs. Steamer projects Benintendi to slug .409 next season, but don’t be surprised if he’s well over that mark if re-signed by the Yankees for 2023.
It sort of goes against what I mentioned about his fit at the leadoff spot, but the Yankees and Benintendi should find a healthy medium for that approach that allows him to remain a good leadoff threat, but instead of 5 HRs, maybe he can hit 10-15.
What Should the Yankees Pay For Andrew Benintendi?
The Free Agent market is absolutely juiced right now; Xander Bogaerts signed a $280 million contract over 11 years with the San Diego Padres. Aaron Judge is currently celebrating his 9-year $360 million contract with the Yankees, so it’s not going to cost pennies to sign Benintendi. Teams are very interested in his services, so I’m guessing he gets a bit more money that what FanGraphs has him at $56 million over 4 years. I believe the money could look more like $65 million over 4 years, which wouldn’t be a terrible price to pay for Benintendi who is still 28-years old.
That would give Benintendi $16.25 million dollars a season, which for a player who I think could be a 3+ WAR player in 2023 is pretty fair value. Just roughly using WAR/$, Benintendi would have to be worth 8.1 WAR through those 4 years, which is pretty easy to get to. He’s not going to hit his declining years during the contract, so it’s very possible he’s a 2.5-3.5 WAR player for every year of this deal. Inflation isn’t going to do much to this contract, but by 2026 perhaps this is a deal that looks like a bargain.
Evaluating his solid defense, good OBP, untapped power potential, and baserunning upside gives me a lot of confidence that Benintendi could really do well in the Bronx. It doesn’t hurt that he’d be right in his prime years during the contract, and his Steamer 113 wRC+ gives us a steady median outcome for him in 2023. I could see that wRC+ for 2023 getting up to 120 and maybe even higher, especially with the chance to hit more HRs than he would anywhere else. If the price is right, Benintendi should be a Yankee in 2023, and I think he does move the needle for this team to deepen their lineup.