MiLM 9/1/21: A Tale of Two Benintendis

I wrote up a pretty lengthy piece recently describing how we can use league comparative (“+”) stats to get a better feel for just how good the Royals MiLB hitters have been relative to years past.

2018 Comparable Players
– Eloy Jimenez (21): 129 OPS+, 105 BB/K+, 161 ISO+; 124 career wRC+ in big leagues
– Brandon Lowe (23): 128 OPS+, 127 BB/K+, 175 ISO+; 130 career wRC+ in big leagues
– Austin Riley (21): 118 OPS+, 63 BB/K+, 149 ISO+; 115 career wRC+ in big leagues

Be sure to check out the updated MiLB leaderboards. The Royals have a new leader in batting average.

Batting Average
1.) Vinnie Pasquantino: .316
2.) Tucker Bradley: .305
3.) Edward Olivares: .298
4.) Bobby Witt Jr.: .293
5.) Maikel Garcia: .289
6.) Rudy Martin + Michael Massey + Freddy Fermin: .288
9.) MJ Melendez + Clay Dungan: .280

Before we get to Andrew Benintendi, the Royals are going to have some roster decisions to make this offseason, and Benintendi figures to be right in the middle of it.

LF: Benintendi
CF: ………
RF: Isbel
3B: Witt Jr.
SS: Lopez/Mondesi
2B: Lopez/Merrifield
1B: Pratto/Dozier
C: Salvy/ Melendez
DH: Salvy/Melendez/Santana

Would the real Benintendi please stand up?

If you look at Andrew Benintendi’s collective 2021 season, it’s not pretty:

  • .256/.301/.404/.704
  • Career low .148 ISO
  • Career low 90 wRC+
  • Career low 6.1% BB%
  • Career high 52.3% Swing%
  • 0.5 fWAR
  • 1.1 bWAR

In yesterday’s game, Amed Rosario singled on a ground ball hit to Benintendi’s left. Myles Straw scored all the way from first base. Regardless of what you think of Benintendi in terms of his offensive ability and production, he has been pretty bad in LF all year and the way he’s hitting of late, he’s borderline unplayable at the moment. Of course, the Royals are going to start him every day because he’s under contract for 2022 and you gave up a semi-decent haul of prospects to bring him to Kansas City.

His offensive production hasn’t been THIS bad all year though. Back in June I was fine with what the Royals were getting from Benintendi. Here were his numbers before suffering an injury in his rib cage in June:

  • .283/.340/.429/.769
  • .146 ISO
  • 110 wRC+
  • 7.9% BB%
  • 51.1% Swing%
  • 0.8 fWAR

That’s not terrible. Here are his numbers since returning from the IL in July:

  • .219/.244/.369/.613
  • .150 ISO
  • 61 wRC+
  • 3.6% BB%
  • 53.9% Swing%
  • -0.4 fWAR

That’s pretty bad. I’ve seen folks on Twitter talk about how the rib injury could have possible affected Benintendi’s power output. Well, his ISO has actually improved since his return, meaning he’s hitting for more isolated power than he had been before the injury. His hard hit rate is up almost 4% as well, meaning he’s hitting the ball harder more often than he was before the injury. He’s walking less and swinging more, so if you want to argue that the time off threw off his timing or something…sure…but it doesn’t appear to have affected his ability to drive the baseball any. He’s just completely lost his plate discipline. His Oppo% is WAY down since the injury too, so if you buy that as a reflection of a hitter being locked in, he’s certainly, well…not been that.

Maybe this is a sign that Benintendi has the ability to bounce back in 2022. He doesn’t appear to have lost his ability to hit for power from the first part of the season (although it’s still down for his career norms). Maybe he can get some of his plate discipline back, be more selective, go the other way more, and be the 110 wRC+ guy you had from April through June.

I still don’t think you can bank on Benintendi to be a key cog in a lineup that is going to win 82+ games in 2022. If he’s batting 7th or 8th, sure. But you can’t go into 2022 thinking Benintendi is going to be a top-5 hitter for you all year and that be your plan. He’s not good defensively and isn’t giving you any kind of a safety blanket in terms of provided value when he’s not hitting. The Royals have, historically, not been good at helping hitters regain their plate discipline in the big leagues. Benintendi and Carlos Santana are both currently experiencing career lows in their BB%. I just don’t know what you think Benintendi is in 2022. Should he start on Opening Day? Absolutely. As long as it doesn’t mean Kyle Isbel is on the bench or in Omaha. If you can fit them both in the outfield, outstanding. You paid a lot in terms of player capital to acquire Benintendi. He deserves every chance to fail. I just worry that he, like Jorge Soler, may not be able to recoup any of that value for you before his contract ends in 2022.

Hunter Dozier has been…inconsistent at best?

Hunter Dozier has sucked pretty bad this year overall. From April 1st through June 19th, Dozier had a 44 wRC+ in 203 PA. He’s still hovering in the realm of negative fWAR for the season and his season can be described, at best, as lost. Dozier appeared to turn a corner though in June and from June 20th through August 20th hit .275 with a 111 wRC+ in 195 PA. That’s not elite or anything but it is certainly serviceable in terms of being a platoon bat playing 3-5 times a week for a contending team. Over his last 69 PA in August, Dozier seems to have returned to early season form, hitting .212 with a 52 wRC+ and just 3 XBH in 18 games. Slumps happen, guys like Dozier aren’t going to be super productive all the time, but he’s worth watching in September because if he doesn’t have another productive stretch like he did from 6/20-8/20, it’s fair to wonder what his role on this team should be in 2022 as well. He, like Benintendi, offers you almost nothing in terms of defensive value, save for the ability to play multiple positions, even if not well. It seems likely that the Royals roll out a struggling Benintendi, Dozier, and Carlos Santana on Opening Day in 2022, which doesn’t offer much promise in terms of having a super competitive team all season.

Jackson Kowar starting for Kansas City tonight

Jackson Kowar will start for Kansas City tonight as they play host to Cleveland. I was as shocked as anyone at how awful he looked in his first stint in the big leagues. He had no semblance of control and didn’t give us anything to evaluate in terms of how his stuff would play against big league hitters.

He has been fantastic in AAA this season. He has 16 K and just 2 BB in his last 11 IP for Omaha and has made hitters look absolutely silly all year. There are 28 pitchers age 24 or younger with at least 50 IP in AAA this season. Kowar ranks 2nd in K%, 2nd in K-BB%, 2nd in K/9, 4th in HR/9, 4th in ERA, and 2nd in FIP. By all accounts, he’s been one of the best pitching prospects in the upper levels of MiLB this year and while having pinpoint command isn’t a strength of his, his command is infinitely better than what we saw in his first big league stint.

If Kowar comes up tonight and shoves against Cleveland, Royals fans are going to be uncontrollably excited about the future of this young pitching staff. Carlos Hernandez and Daniel Lynch have been fantastic over the last couple of months. Brady Singer and Kris Bubic have at least shown flashes of excellence. If Kowar can come up and prove to Royals fans that his stuff will play at the big league level, Royals fans will have plenty of reasons to be really excited to watch this rotation take the next step as we head into 2022.

Tuesday Night Highlight Reel

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