Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AL EastAmerican LeagueAnalysisBoston Red SoxMLB

2020 Red Sox Projections: Outfield

Andrew Benintendi, LF

I’ve always thought that Benintendi is a little overrated. Maybe that’s because he was so hyped up both out of the and as a minor league prospect. Benintendi was picked 7th overall after winning the Golden Spikes award at Arkansas, then proceeded to obliterate minor league pitching in his first year in the minors. He was called up after just 151 games in the minors and hit .295 in the heat of the pennant race. The sky seemed to be the limit for Benintendi, and after a slightly disappointing 2017 season (103 OPS+, 2.0 WAR), he had an all-star level season in 2018 (.290/.366/.465, 4.4 WAR) and helped the Red Sox World Series championship. With the progression he showed in 2018, Benintendi’s 2019 can only be classified as a major letdown. His average (.290 to .266), on-base percentage (.366 to .343), stolen base total (22 to 10) and WAR (4.4 to 2.0) collapsed, while his strikeout rate climbed nearly 7%.

So where does that leave us with Benintendi? At this point, it’s safe to say that he will never be a perennial batting title winner like some expected out of college, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t still be a productive player. His best value comes on the bases, where he is 52-63 in his career on stolen bases. It’s tricky to evaluate his value in the field. The stats say that he is a slightly below league average defender, but he has been a Gold Glove finalist in each of the last two seasons. He can be prone to lapses in the field and has a weak arm, but he has above average range and plays the Monster exceptionally well. With all that in consideration, left field at Fenway is the perfect place for him to play, as the shallowness of the Monster hides the weakness of arm. 

While his defense and baserunning have been fairly consistent throughout his career, his offense had been up and down, highlighting by an extremely concerning 2019 season. As players grow older and gain more experience, they are expected to improve their approach at the plate, namely walking more and striking out less. Benintendi, however, was just the opposite. His 9.6% walk rate was his career low, while his strikeout rate was easily a career high. On the bright side, he hit the ball in the air more than ever before and set a career high in hard hit rate, which could point to a bit of bad luck. 

The number one thing scouts raved about Benintendi as a prospect was his advanced approach, but in his fourth season in the bigs, he seemed overmatched at the plate. Though I accept Benintendi will never be the superstar that many believed he would be, there is no reason why he can’t be a productive player.  His defense and baserunning are dependable, and he actually hit the ball better than ever before in 2019. He should have a bounceback season in 2020.

Stat Prediction: .282/.367/.471 18 HR 81 RBI 121 OPS+  13-15 SB 3.8 WAR

Jackie Bradley Jr, CF

Bradley Jr. is the definition of an enigma. He can look like the best player in the world at one moment and look completely lost the next. His 2019 was a prime example. In June, he hit .315. The rest of the year, he hit just .205. This could be chalked up to a fluke if it wasn’t for the fact that this happens every year.  In 2015, he hit .354 in August and .190 the rest of the year. In 2016, he hit .381 in May and .242 the rest of the year. In 2017, he hit ,353 in July and .221 the rest of the year. At this point, there is no secret as to what Bradley Jr. He is due for one good month a year at the plate, and not much more besides that.

As inconsistent as Bradley is at the plate, he is just the opposite in the field. He has posted above average seasons every year in the big leagues, including a gold glove award in 2018. Though he wasn’t as great last year, he did finish in the top 10 among outfielders in assists and provided his usual jaw dropping defensive highlights. He was nowhere near as effective on the bases, as he went from 17 to 18 in stolen base attempts in 2018 to 8 for 14 last year.

Like Benintendi, Bradley’s peripherals tell a mixed tale. He set a career high in strikeout rate and his hard hit percentage and fly ball percentage dropped significantly. However, he set a career low in BABIP, which could mean that he suffered from bad luck on the rare occasion he put the ball in play, and he walked more often than he’s ever done before.

Though he can be extremely streaky in the season, Bradley’s season totals are remarkably consistent. His wRC+ totals for the last three seasons (100 is average) are 89,90,90. Entering his age 30 season, it would be silly to expect anything different. Bradley’s going to do what he always does: play elite defense, strikeout a lot, hit in the low to mid .200s, and hit around 20 home runs.

Stat Predictions: .232/.311/.442  22 Home Runs 75 RBIs 10-12 SB 91 OPS+  2.5 WAR

J.D Martinez, LF

After his amazing 2018 campaign, his 2019 could be considered a bit of a letdown. His home runs (43 to 36), RBIs (130 to 105), average (330 to .303) and OPS (1.031 to .939) all fell significantly. He was still fantastic, just not otherworldly like in 2018. His underlying metrics show no reason to be concerned however. He set a career high in walk rate and a career low in strikeout rate, and actually hit the ball in the air and harder more often than ever before. Even entering his age 32 season, there is no reason why he can’t be just as good, if not better, than he was in 2018.

His defensive outlook, however, is far less optimistic. Even though he played most of his games at DH, he still managed to generate a terrible -18.1 defensive runs saved. In the past few years, he has gone from an average defender to a poor one to a downright awful one.  At this point, the Red Sox have to wonder if it’s even worth it to put him in the outfield to give one of their regulars a day off. He is also terrible on the bases (-13.5 BSR over the past three years), which puts even more pressure on him to be elite with the bat. 

Martinez has achieved far more than anyone thought he would when he left the last-place Houston Astros in 2014. The 26 year old free agent signed with the Tigers, and surprised everybody by hitting .315 with a 154 OPS+.  Over the next five years, Martinez proceeded to prove that his newfound success was not a fluke, and has developed into one of the most feared hitters in the game. His last three years have been arguably the best in the game: He’s slashed .313/.388/.619 while averaging 41 home runs and 113 RBIs a year. Even though 2019 was a “down” season for him, he hit the ball as well as he ever has. There is no reason why he can’t continue to be one of the best hitters in baseball for the foreseeable future.

Stat Predictions: .297/.384/.573  42 Home Runs 121 RBIs 3-5 SB 155 OPS+  3.7 WAR

Mookie Betts, RF

If you polled all 30 MLB GMs who’d they start a franchise with, the answer would probably unanimously be Mike Trout. After Trout, however, the answer might be Mookie Betts. There is absolutely nothing Betts can’t do on a baseball field. He’ll contend for a batting title every year. He’ll draw a ton of walks. He’ll hit around 30 home runs. He’ll play gold glove defense. He’ll finish among the league leaders in outfield assists. He’ll steal some bases and rarely get caught. Every game he plays in, Betts finds a way to help his team win, and that’s all you can ask for from your franchise player.

As amazing as Betts is, there are still some questions as to just how great he is, stemming from his slightly down 2019 season. His average plummeted nearly 50 points,  he stole fourteen less bases and he was over 5 runs less valuable on defense. Like Martinez, Betts was still great in 2019, just not otherworldly like he was the year prior. The underlying metrics give reason to be optimistic though. Betts hit the ball in 2019 just as hard as he did in 2018, when he hit .346. Now, you can argue that Betts can got a bit lucky hitting for an average that high, and you would probably be right. But you would also be right is saying he was equally unlucky in hitting .295 in 2019, as his below average .309 BABIP suggests. His true average, assuming he hits the ball at the same elite rate, is somewhere in the middle, probably around the .315 mark. Hitting for that high an average  combined with an outstanding ability to draw walks makes Betts an extraordinary offensive talent. 

There is one other possible explanation for why Betts’ offensive numbers declined. A notorious pull hitter, Betts was shifted against nearly five times more often in 2019 than ever before, resulting in more loud outs hit at a perfectly positioned infielder. If Betts doesn’t learn to hit the other way more frequently, or simply hit the ball in the air more, he could be susceptible to more bad luck in 2020. 

One thing that is not up for questioning is Betts’ defense. In fact, the numbers may even be underselling his value. Right field at Fenway Park is generally regarded as the toughest right field to play because of it’s quirky dimensions, and few have ever played it better than Betts. So while he’s accumulated 47.2 DRS over the course of his career, that number doesn’t entirely represent how valuable Betts is in the outfield.

With all the trade rumors swirling around him and the questions about whether his upcoming free agency, it’s easy to forget just how good a player Mookie Betts is. No matter what team he plays for, he is an all-time great player. II doubt he’ll ever be able to match his 2018 season, which ranks among the best seasons in the history of the MLB, but yet another MVP caliber season should be in the cards.

Stat Predictions: .314/.405/.558  30 Home Runs 82 RBIs 23-25 SB OPS+ 143   WAR: 7.6