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The Royals’ Most Consistent Hitter Is Lacking Pop in His Bat

Benintendi is having a great season, but one major element is holding him back from true stardom.

As most Royals fans know, Nicky Lopez is not a power threat in any way. His ISO this season is .053, after all. Who isn't that far ahead of him, though? Andrew Benintendi with a whopping .089. This is surprising, as Benintendi has been known for being a doubles hitter for most of his career. Has his approach changed this season?

The short answer? Not really, at least according to FanGraphs' plate discipline chart. The only major change from last year to this year is Benintendi's O-Swing% (outside zone swing percentage) going from 34.6% in 2021 to 27.8% now. He is making slightly more contact as well, going from 79.6% to 82.4%. This doesn't really show the approach change, so does this mean that he's simply been unlucky when it comes to slugging? 

May 21, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi (16) singles against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

At the moment, Benintendi's SLG is .391. That figure would be a career-low if not for his horrendous 2020 season. His xSLG on the year is .445, indicating that he might be a tad unlucky. With that said, some factors back up his low slugging percent on the year.

One factor in Benintendi's lack of power is his below-average barrel rate. It currently stands at 5.2%, which is his second-lowest percentage in his career in regards to full seasons. Another factor is his ridiculous Med% (percentage of balls hit at a medium speed) of 59.5. Once again (this is a trend), that is second to only his career-worst season in 2020.

The last factor contributing to Benintendi's lack of power is his ground-ball rate on the year. The trend continues, as this year's 45.7% is his second-highest to only his 57.1% clip in 2020. To sum up his power struggles this year, he is essentially hitting like a better version of his 2020 self. Is that really a problem, though?

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For this year, the answer would be no. The main reason for that is Benintendi's career-high OBP of .368 and career-low K% of 13.8. When looking at his pitch tracking, it also shows a good improvement in him hitting all types of pitches. The lowest batting average against a certain kind of pitch for him is his .276 average against breaking balls. Let's take this a tad further with run values against specific pitches.

Benintendi's run values on almost every pitch are either a one, two or zero, with the exception of one pitch. The pitches that are at two are the four-seamer and sinker, which he is hitting at .337 and .333 clips, respectively. The pitches with values at one are the slider and changeup, which he is hitting .289 and .351 against, in addition to slugging the slider at .444. The rest of the pitches are at zero or minus-two runs, and he isn't hitting them at a good rate or for power. 

This leads back into the plate discipline values from earlier. Benintendi's career-high OBP and career-low K% are explained by both his low Whiff% at 19.7 and his Chase Contact% of 79.1, which rank below league average and well above league average respectively. What this might say is that when Benintendi chases a pitch, he makes contact that could lead to weakly-hit knocks, thus leading to less power.

Benintendi is putting together a year that — from a power standpoint — is similar to his career-worst season in 2020. With that said, everything else is either a career-high or at least average for him, though. With 2022 pretty much in the dumps for the Royals, do not expect Benintendi to be staying much longer. He will have a pretty good trade market due to his ability to get on base and play at least average defense.

If Benintendi can get the power going again before the trade deadline, his value will only skyrocket and possibly lead to a very nice trade return for Kansas City. Even if he doesn't hit for power this season, he will be a valuable piece for a contender to have just for his on-base skills alone. Ultimately, it remains to be seen what the Royals do with their outfielder who is a bit of pop away from producing at a star level at the plate. 

Editor's note: All statistics cited in this article are valid entering play on June 29.