Mr. Stats Notes: The Under-the-Radar Star of Royals vs. Tigers

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On Sunday at noon, the Kansas City Royals take on the Detroit Tigers at noon in a game that can be streamed live on Peacock. The Royals haven’t had much success on the field this year, but they’re finding out about young players like Bobby Witt, Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino. That’s good, but they have one awfully good player in the prime of his career.

Take a closer look at left fielder Andrew Benintendi.

Benintendi, through 308 plate appearances entering the weekend, has a wRC+ of 121. His OPS+ is 117. He’s a solid player, always has been.

This is a guy that grew up a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan, growing up just 10 minutes from Great American Ball Park.

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At 5-10, 180 pounds, the high-schooler Benintendi was known as the “Ohio Hit King”. Okay, so he didn’t become the real “Hit King” like another Cincinnati native from a different generation — Pete Rose.

Benintendi was the college baseball player of the year in 2015, after a stellar career at the University of Arkansas. In his senior year, he led the SEC in homers, average, SLG, OBP, and walks. In the June draft, he was selected by Boston with the seventh overall pick. So far, the top of that draft class has proved fruitful, producing Benintendi along with stars like Alex Bregman (the second overall pick out of LSU), Dansby Swanson (the top overall pick), and Kyle Tucker (the only outfielder picked ahead of Benintendi).

In 2017, Andrew entered the season as the No. 1 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. Did he live up to expectations? Benintendi finished second in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting following a season in which he hit 20 homers, stole 20 bases, and drove in 90 runs. He finished ahead in the voting of players like Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel, and Matt Olson. But they would all be overshadowed by the winner of the 2017 A.L. Rookie of the Year:  Aaron Judge.

The 2018 Red Sox won the World Series, and one big reason why was young outfielder Mookie Betts.  Despite Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. wearing well-deserved reputations as defensive wizards, it was left fielder Benintendi that made a game-saving diving catch in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in Houston. I talked to Ron Darling, the TBS analyst for that ALCS. “That inning, Craig Kimbrel couldn’t throw strikes (he walked three men to load the bases and put the tying and winning runs on base). We all knew Kimbrel didn’t have much left, and the Astros were a hit away from tying the series.  The thing about Benintendi’s catch was that he made it in Houston—the only other stadium one can possibly make that catch is Fenway (because of how shallow you have to play).” The diving catch put Boston up 3-1, and they would eliminate the defending World Series champs in the next game. Benintendi made big contributions in the Fall Classic, as well. In Game 1 of the World Series vs. the Dodgers, he went 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and three runs scored.

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Andrew was traded in February of 2021 as part of a three-team trade by the Red Sox, Royals, and Mets.  Since then, he has been good, actually a little better than good. He won a Gold Glove in 2021. He led American League left fielders in starts, innings (1,116), total chances (234), putouts (225), and fielding percentage (.987). His seven defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs, tied for the A.L. lead among left fielders.

His legacy was never going to be in the lineage of great Red Sox leftfielders: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice. Will his legacy be one similar to Alex Gordon, who manned left field for the Royals from 2007-2020?

Or maybe Benintendi will be the target of a contending team that pries him from the Royals for reinforcement. But being compared to Alex Gordon isn’t too shabby.

Gordon will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of the Royals fanbase. You think Benintendi has some memorable postseason moments? Look at Alex Gordon!

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In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, he doubled in Billy Butler in the second inning to give the Royals the lead. And in the bottom of the ninth with two out — down a run — against Madison Bumgarner, Gordon had a line drive base hit to left field, and kept running to third base on what was ruled an E8. Gordon was ninety feet away from tying the game as Sal Perez popped up to end the Royals hopes.

Then, in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, the K.C. left fielder came up in the bottom of the ninth against the Mets’ Jeurys Familia, down a run. Gordon’s home run tied the game, which the Royals would later win in 14 innings.

Andrew Benintendi will be 28 years old this week (July 6).  He is in the prime of a career that may not reach the heights of the superstars, but one that will surpass all but a handful. According to Ron Darling, Benintendi suffers from one stigma:  that everyone expects him to be better.  In this regard, Darling compared him to former Angels left fielder Garret Anderson. Like Benintendi, Anderson finished second in the Rookie of the Year. Like Benintendi, Anderson was a solid, reliable player who could be counted on day after day, year after year.

Left Fielders in MLB have to step it up!

Andrew Benintendi is one of the top seven or eight or nine left fielders in MLB these days. And that might be an indictment of the lack of depth at the position.

It wasn’t long ago that Joey Gallo was thought of as one of the best in the game at the position. Not this year.

Jesse Winker last year batted .305/.394/.556 with 24 HR, and his OPS+ was 140. This year, he’s batting .235. His OPS is down from .949 to .704. His OPS+ is down from 140 to 107. He’s making news in 2022: The news is that he apologized to fans for flipping them off following the brawl with the Angels earlier this week.

Christian Yelich is a former MVP but he hasn’t been more than an average player for the last two or three years.

Marcell Ozuna is another left fielder on a good team having a poor season.

Mark Canha and Randy Arozarena and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. are better-than-average players, too, that add a lot to their team. But they are hardly stars.

Chris Taylor is a useful player. Joc Pederson is having a good season for San Francisco, but has only started about half of the Giants games in left field.

The Astros Michael Brantley just went on the injured list with shoulder discomfort. Brantley and teammate Yordan Alvarez give Houston excellent production in left field (.284/.376/.489 with 15 HR, 45 RBI). Similarly, the Orioles are getting good production from the position from the firm of Austin Hays and Anthony Santander. 

Kyle Schwarber is a defensive liability in left; and he slumped the first two months of the season. Okay, he has 12 home runs in June and is on pace for 48. He may be the best left fielder in the game today.

All I’m saying is this:  there are some truly generational talents in MLB these days. They mostly play other positions than left field.  If you look at the players playing right field, you find Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Mookie Betts. Even the next tier of right fielders (Kyle Tucker, Starling Marte) are excellent.

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And if you think Comerica is an excellent park (it is)…

On Sunday, Ahmed Fareed, Craig Monroe and Britney Eurton will take fans around Detroit’s Comerica Park throughout the game, providing viewers “with a tour of the ballpark, unique viewpoints, conversations with special guests, and more.” Comerica is one of the best ballparks in the country. I like it a lot.

But whenever I’m asked the best baseball stadium I’ve ever been to, the answer is the old Tiger Stadium, on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in Detroit. I thought it was superior to Wrigley and Fenway, the contemporary ballparks that still exist. The Tigers haven’t played there since 1999, but it seems like yesterday. I felt like I was entering a time machine, going back to the early 1900s when players like Ty Cobb roamed that field. There was no stadium before or since where the fans felt so close to the field.

Major League baseball stadiums are like pizza. They’re all good, some are better than others. And there used to be a ballpark in Detroit that was — in my view — the best.

How to Watch Royals vs Tigers on Peacock

MLB Sunday Leadoff’s presentation of the Detroit Tigers hosting the Kansas City Royals this Sunday, July 3 at Noon ET on Peacock will feature a unique broadcast without any commentators in the booth as viewers will be taken inside the ballpark to experience the game from different viewpoints and perspectives.

MLB Sunday Leadoff host and in-game reporter Ahmed Fareed, former Tigers outfielder and current Bally Sports Detroit analyst Craig Monroe, and NBC Sports’ Britney Eurton will take fans around Detroit’s Comerica Park throughout the game, providing viewers with a tour of the ballpark, unique viewpoints, conversations with special guests, and more.

Date Show Time (ET) Platform
Sun., July 3 MLB Sunday Leadoff Pregame 11:30 a.m. Peacock
Sun., July 3 Royals vs. Tigers Noon Peacock