Credit to my former colleague Bill Thompson who last August called out Reds’ outfielder Jesse Winker as “the slugger the world forgot”. Bill accurately called out the baseball community for overlooking a player who has excellent tools and has put up excellent numbers. We can excuse the lack of press in a COVID-shortened oddly constructed 2020, but this year Winker is off to a torrid start.
With six home runs in 18 games, and going into Wednesday, an NL leading .397 batting average, Winker has been everything the Reds hoped he would be when they drafted him years ago in the first round of the 2012 draft.
The Reds were shutdown entirely by Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers’ bullpen Wednesday afternoon, with Winker being no exception. Despite an 0-for-4 day, Winker’s slash line is still an excellent .377/.421/.701, good for a 200 wRC+ in his first 19 games. Until his 0-fer on Wednesday, Winker had a 12 game hitting streak in which he posted nine extra base hits.
Not only is Winker nabbing doubles, triples, and homers, he’s doing it across the entire field. Take a look at his spray chart. That’s three homers to left, two homers to center, and four doubles split evenly between right and right center field. He’s using the entire field.
Unsurprisingly, Winker’s continued to be aggressive at the plate, a continuation of offering up swings at nearly ⅓ of fastballs and almost as many offspeed pitches throughout most of his professional career. Winker’s walk rate is a low 7.6 percent, less than half of the 15.3 walk percent he posted in 2020, but that aggressiveness is working in the short-term. FanGraphs’ projects his walk rate the rest of the season to be somewhere in the middle, in line with ~12 percent BB rate, which is respectable, especially if he can keep knocking extra base hits.
Winker is making great contact this year, posting a hard-hit rate over 45 percent, and medium hit rate of 44 percent, meaning ~90 percent of contact is solid contact; unsurprisingly, it’s leading to tremendous results. Statcast data backs this up as well; per those numbers, he’s barreled nearly 20 percent of every pitch with which he’s made contact.
When Bill wrote his article last year, he made mention of an artificially high batting average on balls in play, which at the time the article was written was .424. Winker ended the season with a .283 BABIP, meaning he got hit hard by the regression bug the last six weeks of the season. Even so, he ended 2020 with a 146 wRC+, and a near-.390 OBP.
Winker has already posted nearly the same value as he did in all of 2020, his fWAR is practically even to what it was in 2020. Whether or not his current .451(!) BABIP comes down to earth, which it inevitably will, the extra base hits, particularly the 6 home runs are already on the board. Provided he continues to make hard contact on his swings, and if he’s a bit more patient when fewer balls fall in for hits, his numbers should still be good.
Nobody really expects Jesse Winker to be leading the National League in hitting at the end of the year, but despite being a late-bloomer (he’ll turn 28 later this season), he’s adding much-needed firepower to middling Reds offense that recently came off a seven-game losing streak, and lost eight of their last ten games.