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You think you’re upset with the lack of pop Andrew Benintendi has shown in his first couple months in a White Sox uniform?
Think about how Benintendi must be feeling about it.
“The only thing I remember is him getting four hits in one of the World Series games,” Joe Kelly told CHGO about Benintendi back in spring training, “and he was upset about it because it was (three singles and a double) instead of (all) doubles. It just shows you he’s a really good player.
“He got four hits in a World Series game and got mad about it, so it just shows you how much he wants to win and do well.”
That four-hit performance in Game 1 of the 2018 World Series, when both Benintendi and Kelly wore a different color Sox, landed Benintendi in Boston’s franchise record book.
But it wasn’t enough to make him happy.
So how do you think he feels about a .272/.330/.350 slash line — and zero home runs — in his first 47 games as a South Sider?
The offensive numbers are far from miserable, and Benintendi just wrapped up a 10-game hitting streak. Over his last 13 games, he hit .319 and got on base at a .377 clip. Seven of his 15 hits in that span were doubles.
But this is the guy who wasn’t thrilled with a four-hit night in the Fall Classic. So it makes sense he doesn’t feel he’s done all that he can this season.
“It’s definitely been a grind to try to find my swing,” Benintendi told CHGO last weekend. “I feel like so far this year, I haven’t driven the ball at all, and I think that’s just timing, swing path, things like that. I’m just trying to clean that up.
“I’m still getting hits here and there, but I definitely don’t think I’ve played to my potential yet.”
His career numbers say his “potential,” if you want to call it that, is impressive. He was an All Star last year, when he posted a season average north of .300 for the first time in his career. A year prior, he hit 17 home runs. During that 2018 campaign that ended in a championship with the Red Sox, he walked 71 times and posted a career-best OPS-plus of 123. The year before that, he hit a career-high 20 home runs and was second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
For all that great work, he was rewarded with a big free-agent contract this winter.
And that’s what has colored every negative opinion about Benintendi from frustrated White Sox fans.
Benintendi admittedly wasn’t jazzed about owning the title of the richest free agent in White Sox history. The day he was introduced as the team’s biggest addition of the offseason, he called talking about the fact that his $75 million deal was the largest the franchise ever gave out “almost an uncomfortable conversation to have.”
He’s lived up to his reputation as a quiet guy who just goes about his business, far from a marketing department’s dream. But that business, whether billboard-able or not, was supposed to win fans over.
Pedro Grifol, who served as the Royals’ bench coach during Benintendi’s two seasons in Kansas City, trumpeted a style of play that would set the tone for the rest of the team. And amid Benintendi’s struggles to start the season — far from the only ones during the team’s awful April — he promised that White Sox fans hadn’t seen anywhere close to everything the left fielder can do.
“There’s a lot more,” Grifol said in mid April. “The more you watch him, the more you realize what a good baseball player he is, what he does for a team.”
“We’re not going to really appreciate everything he can do until Game 162, and then everyone’s going to see how much he really brings to the table,” Grifol said at the end of April.
Indeed, Benintendi arrived with the reputation of being a good defender, a good base runner and a good fundamental player. Grifol touted him as someone who did the little things, and it can be difficult to earn consistent cheers doing that compared to the cheers that pour in when the ball goes over the fence on a regular basis.
But waiting till the end of the year is a long wait for fans in the era of instant gratification. Even a double-digit-game hitting streak hasn’t been enough to chase away detractors upset that Benintendi isn’t a different player altogether, that Rick Hahn didn’t hand out a franchise-record contract to a stereotypical slugger.
It’s true Benintendi addressed a lot of offseason needs for this White Sox team. It’s also true he didn’t address perhaps its biggest need.
But, again, if you think you’re upset that Benintendi has contributed zilch in the power department, he’s got you beat. It’s very much on his mind, and he’s working on it.
“Playing in Kauffman the last two years, I completely changed everything,” Benintendi told CHGO about his swing and power approach. “Going into this year, I figured it might take some time (to change again) because at Kauffman, I just tried to beat the shift. It’s such a big stadium and I’m not a big guy.
“Now, it’s just trying to find contact points to drive the ball in the gaps, knowing now that I can maybe pull a ball and hit it 385 feet and it’s a homer instead of an out. It’s trying to find the swing and the swing path to pull the ball more and drive it more.”
Benintendi could be excused for experiencing a little whiplash, considering he went from the relatively hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, to the cavernous environs of Kauffman Stadium, then briefly to the bandbox of Yankee Stadium before landing on the South Side. He says he’s comfortable playing his home games at Guaranteed Rate Field, homer-friendly by reputation, particularly for left-handed hitters like him.
But obviously, the home runs have yet to come.
Of course, this is Benintendi we’re talking about, and perhaps just like there was no pleasing him during that 2018 World Series, there might be no pleasing White Sox fans mad that he’s not Joey Gallo or Michael Conforto or Barry Bonds. Benintendi isn’t going to hit 30 homers, as he pointed out back in January, and he has only hit 20 once in a major league season.
But over the six-month marathon that is a baseball season, he’s expected to do an awful lot, be it making a diving catch in left field, taking the extra base on the base paths, laying down a timely bunt, drawing a walk or delivering on the fundamental stuff the White Sox were so bad at last season.
That might not be enough for some, but it figures to be enough for the White Sox, particularly — and maybe only — if they get the expected offensive contributions from the rest of their lineup. Benintendi wasn’t brought in to hit home runs, but all that good stuff he does was meant to be a complement to an otherwise homer-happy club. Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert Jr., Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Andrew Vaughn and the rest were supposed to bring the thump, and they’ve done so with mixed results, shining a brighter spotlight on what Benintendi hasn’t done but was never supposed to do.
That Benintendi was the big add the same offseason that José Abreu left — and took the 243 homers he hit in a White Sox uniform with him — didn’t help.
If you’re upset that the production has not matched the contract yet, specifically that it was a record-setter on the South Side, you’re not alone. The guy wearing No. 23 isn’t too pleased with how things have gone for him this season, either.
But while different production could change your opinion of Benintendi in a blink, it doesn’t seem like the guy who was ticked after a four-hit game in the World Series is going to change anything, whether his contract remains a record or not.
“No one,” Benintendi said when talking about the team, providing a glimpse into his psyche, “is going to put more pressure on us than we do ourselves.”
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