While offensive struggles have certainly been the talk of the young season, rookie Andrew Benintendi has not been part of the problem. The young left fielder has displayed poise both at the plate and in the field, looking very deserving of the trust placed in him by John Farrell. Farrell has batted the 22-year-old lefty second or third in every game he has started, treating him more like a veteran than a green rookie. If Benintendi can keep this up, he will likely win the American League Rookie of the Year award, but more importantly, he will solve what has been a rotating door in left field since Manny Ramirez’s deadline-day trade in 2008.
Since the trade of Ramirez in 2008, the Red Sox have had a rotating cast of mediocrity at what has traditionally been the bedrock of the Red Sox offense. From 2009- 2016, Jason Bay, Daniel Nava, Carl Crawford, Johnny Gomes, Hanley Ramirez, Chris Young, and Brock Holt have been the only players with over 50 games played at the position in a given year during those seasons. Aside from Bay in 2009 and the highly productive 2013 platoon of Nava and Gomes (25 HR and 118 RBI!), the production has left the team wanting.
This hasn’t always been the case though and I think it’s fair to argue that from 1940-2008 no team in baseball has had a more productive position than left field has been for the Boston Red Sox. During that 68-year span, the team has had just six left fielders (min. 50 games per year) with three or more seasons at the position. To put that in perspective, over the same time span, Boston has voted in a new mayor a mere seven times. The names are pretty stunning, so here they are along with their best single-season OPS:
|Red Sox Tenure||Player||Best OPS Mark|
|1940 – 1960||Ted Williams||1.287 (1941)|
|1961 – 1974||Carl Yastrzemski||1.044 (1970)|
|1975 – 1987||Jim Rice||.977 (1979)|
|1987 – 1996||Mike Greenwell||.956 (1987)|
|1998 – 2000||Troy O’Leary||.838 (1999)|
|2001 – 2008||Manny Ramirez||1.097 (2002)|
This is obviously a slight oversimplification, but these six men represent a nearly unbroken line at the position. There were a few exceptions: from 1943-45 and from 1952-53, Ted Williams missed time due to being a war hero in WWII and Korea. In 1964, the Red Sox experimented by putting Tony Conigliaro in left and Yaz in center field before switching back the following year. In 1973, Tommy Harper took over left field from Yaz before splitting time with Yaz in 1974, and then being traded to the Angels in the off-season. When Rice took over in 1975, he and Yaz continued to evenly split time until 1978. Yaz played less and less there until he retired in 1983. Mike “The Gator” Greenwell missed 1992 due to Tommy John surgery, and Wil Cordero bridged the gap between The Gator and O’Leary in 1997.
The fact that we can sum up 68 years of baseball at a single position on the team in just a few bullet points and a single paragraph shows just how special the string of Red Sox left fielders have been.
The fact that we can sum up 68 years of baseball at a single position on the team in just a few bullet points and a single paragraph shows just how special the string of Red Sox left fielders have been. Williams played for 19 years and is considered a top-three hitter of all time. Yaz played for 23 seasons, amassing a career WARP of 99.4 before retiring as arguably the most iconic Red Sox player of all time. Rice wasn’t as accomplished as Williams and Yaz, but still managed an MVP season in 1978 and eight All-Star appearances. At 24-years-old in 1988, The Gator posted one of the most under the radar great seasons in Red Sox history, generating a WARP of 7.5 while finishing second to Jose Canseco in the MVP vote due to his chemically aided 40-40 campaign – something Greenwell is still bitter about. O’Leary enjoyed his best seasons with Boston in LF, and Manny gave the Red Sox 2004 and 2007 along with some of the best offensive seasons in Fenway history.
Benintendi has a real chance to be the next guy to grab the job and never let it go, as he currently sports a nifty .864 OPS. This mark is better than all left-fielders 22-years-old and under aside from Boog Powell, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera and better than Barry Bonds, Jim Rice, Yaz, and Rickey Henderson, to name a few. This is good company to be in. While he may not be a traditional slugger in the mold of Williams, Yaz, Rice, and Ramirez, years like Greenwell’s 1988 season – when he posted a .325/.416/.531 slash line – are within reach.
Many teams see left field as a place to hide players with defensive issues by rotating players in and out, but the Red Sox can consistently trot out a player with “future All-Star” written all over him. Time will tell, but I would bet on Benintendi manning left field and hitting in the middle of the order for a long time to come.