By Chris Caskey
Sophomore Andrew Benintendi is chasing immortality in the closing weeks as he looks to become just the second hitter in Southeastern Conference history to win the league’s Triple Crown. Benintendi is also looking to become the first player in SEC history to win the conference’s Player of Year, batting title and home run crown in one season.
The sophomore enters the final two weeks of the regular season with hopes of joining one of the most prolific sluggers in SEC history as the league’s only Triple Crown winners. Benintendi is seeking to etch his name next to Mississippi State’s Rafael Palmerio, who won the conference’s only Triple Crown back in the 1984 season when he hit .415 with 29 home runs and 95 RBI.
With two weeks remaining, Benintendi currently leads the SEC in batting average (.386) and home runs (15), while he is fourth in the RBI category with 46. Those numbers have put him well within striking distance of joining Palmerio for the SEC Triple Crown.
The Cincinnati, Ohio native is also on pace to become just the third player in SEC history to lead the conference in both batting average and home runs. He currently has an eight-point lead for the league’s batting title and holds the home run lead by two. If he maintains first place in both those categories at the season’s end, Benintendi will join Palmerio and Kentucky’s Jeff Abbott as the only players to lead the SEC in both batting average and home runs.
The Razorback outfielder has been on a tear over the last 11 games, raising his batting average a remarkable 38 points, from .348 to .386. During that stretch, he has seven multi-hit games and 15 runs scored, which gives him a total of 48 on the year, surpassing his entire 2014 total of 43.
Not only is Benintendi putting up strong traditional statistics, he is also dominating the sabermetric statistics. Currently, the sophomore leads the SEC in slugging percentage by an astounding 86 points with a .729 clip, and is second in the league in on-base percentage with a .488 mark. The sophomore is in the midst of an impressive on-base stretch, as he has reached base in 23 of his last 33 plate appearances. In fact, Benintendi has reached base safely in his last 20 games, collecting at least one hit in 18 of those contests.
The Golden Spikes Award finalist is not only a headache for pitchers in the batter’s box, but also on the base paths. In his last 10 games, Benintendi has swiped eight bags, giving him a total of 20 stolen bases on the year, which is the third-highest in the SEC. He is the only player in the conference to hit at least 10 home runs and steal 20 bases, and is just one of two players in NCAA Division I to accomplish the feat.
Benintendi’s current numbers has him firmly in consideration for the SEC Player of the Year, and some of the nation’s top college baseball analyst have given strong votes of confidence for him to win the SEC’s top honor.
“There are only a few hitters in the SEC that you have to game plan for and Benintendi leads that list,” said ESPN college baseball analyst Tom Hart.
If his numbers hold and Benintendi does win the conference’s top honor, he will become the first player in SEC history to win the league’s Player of the Year Award, batting title and home run title.
In national statistics, Benintendi is one of seven NCAA Division I baseball players, and one of just two players from the Power Five conferences, to rank in the top 25 in both batting average and home runs. He is tied for second in the nation in home runs, just two off the pace, and ranks 21st in batting average.
The Razorbacks have found something special in Southwest Ohio, and Benintendi looks to put his mark not only on the Arkansas record book, but also the illustrious Southeastern Conference 81-year record book at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
Former SEC head coach and SEC analyst Dave Perno has coached an SEC Player of the Year, appeared in three College World Series and had this to say about Benintendi.
“He’s the SEC Player of the Year and it’s not even close.”