Jesse Winker is a good baseball player. He has proven this by being drafted in the top 50, producing in the minor leagues and earning top prospect rankings in both the Reds organization and the entire league. He played very well for the Reds in his brief stint last year, and he played very well to begin the 2018 season. He did not, however, play well during the month of May. So what exactly happened?

The short and easy answer is that he was in a slump. But hitters go into slumps all the time, so that does not really tell us anything. We want to know what the cause of it was.

You may have heard people saying that pitchers had made adjustments against him and that Winker had not found a way to adjust back, but the truth may be something simpler than that. Winker just did not hit well.

Winker’s calling card without a doubt is his hit tool. Watching him take at-bats draws easy comparisons to Joey Votto with his great patience and ability to seemingly put the bat on any pitch he sees. With that said, it makes sense that taking a less disciplined approach would affect his performance.

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After a great start to the year in terms of plate discipline, Winker started swinging at a lot more pitches outside the zone, which coincided with a steady decline of his BB% (though it was still high at 11.6%). Interestingly, his K% dropped even more and actually gave him a very high 1.29 BB/K ratio for the month. So while fewer walks definitely contributed to his decline in production, it was not like he was all the sudden swinging and missing a ton.

That narrows the issue down to the actual contact that he was making, which was slightly weaker and very groundball heavy, leading to a very low BABIP. These factors were essentially directly related to his production.

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Going back to the statement earlier about pitchers making adjustments, it does not appear that this was anything that pitchers were necessarily in control of. Pitch velocity was down slightly (89.2MPH vs 89.9MPH), but the types of pitches Winker saw were essentially the same ones that he tuned up in April. The only difference was that Winker put significantly more balls on the ground.

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If the pitch types were basically the same, then maybe it was the pitch location. Throwing more balls down in the zone would lead to more grounders. Maybe pitchers were exploiting something there?

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That does not appear to be the case. The locations are slightly different and maybe a little more down and inside, but it is not like there was an assault on the bottom edge of the zone. The difference was that rather than hitting line drives like he did in April, Winker was hitting grounders to the defenders.

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Taking another look at the huge drop in BABIP provides a little more insight. While a .385 for April is a bit high, coming all the way down to .180 for an entire month is more than just regression. There was definitely some bad luck at play there. Statcast helps validate that with xWOBA, which was significantly higher than Winker’s wOBA during both March/April (.407 vs .359) and his slumping May (.297 vs .237).

Another good look at how Winker’s fortune changed on ground balls is by looking at his Radial Chart produced by Baseball Savant. He “topped” 12 more balls during his slump than he had leading up to that point (30 vs 18) and had a significantly lower batting average on those balls (0.66 vs .277). That drop alone is significant, especially considering the small samples.

Opening Day to May 4th (Only Topped Balls Showing)

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May 5th to June 5th (Only Topped Balls Showing)

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Taking into account that he also had less quality contact in terms of Barrels and Solid Contact, it becomes clear that Winker simply ran into a rough stretch of hitting. This happens to every single player, even the superstars. Mike Trout had an 0-22 stretch earlier this year that saw his BABIP bottom out at 0.71 over 8 games. It didn’t last a whole month, because, well, he is Mike Trout. But the bottom line is that whatever Winker went through seems to have been temporary and was simply a growing pain for a still young and promising hitter.

14 Responses

  1. Mason Red

    If he really is that good then without any question he should play every day. That’s the case with any and all players who are considered the foundation for the future. Players like Hamilton,Duvall and Bailey aren’t part of the future. Trade them even if it means taking a hit momeywise. You won’t get much in return but they simply need to go.

  2. Tom Mills

    Over the last week he’s hitting .200 so his problem(s) may not be over.

    • BigRedMachine

      The sky has fallen Steve. And here you are trying to bring your “logic” into this. 😛

  3. eric3287

    When I looked at this data, I had the exact same thought. Imagine you are a rookie, or 1st full year player, and you git .298/.375/.529 in your first 100+ plate appearances the year before. That isn’t enough to earn you every day starts. You start out the next year hitting .305/.414/.390 the fist month of the season. Meanwhile, your main competition hits .175/.257/.381. You are STILL not given a starting job. I don’t think it is a stretch to assume anyone in that situation would come to the conclusion that drawing walks is not valued in the organization and the way to increase playing time is to start swinging for the fences.

  4. Scott Carter

    I think you hit the nail on the head Cossack. Jesse just needs to be Jesse, just as Joey is Joey.

  5. David Eberly

    I fully believe in giving Winker full-time at bats. But I will say his defense is alarming. From what I can tell, he is one of two people in baseball history to have an obp of above .360 AND a negative bRef WAR (min 100 games). He’s been that bad in the field this year.

  6. Jack

    Call me crazy Steve but I think Winker has gotten faster. I know he is no blazer but to my eye he looks like he is faster now than he was in April . April he looked like he was stuck in mud. His defense has been better as well. Maybe he is taking a better approach towards every part of his game. Maybe by playing every day he feels more comfortable. Ask any player and they will tell you that they need to play every day.

  7. Jack

    Totally agree. He needs to play every day to get into a rythym. Winker won’t rip 30 homers but a 300 average and high OBP a long with 15 homers and I’m ok with that. You don’t need a team with all home run power. You need guys to get on base in front of Suarez, Schebler …

  8. Bill

    I think his fielding has gotten better to. But being in and out of the line up doesn’t help. They move him from right to left, they move Schebler from right to center, why don’t they try Duvall in right for a change.

  9. jazzmanbbfan

    I realize it was just one at bat but the home run he hit in Pittsburgh last year tells me that somewhere in that body he has more than enough power. It was a bomb, not just a home run.

  10. David

    Play him. Give him 500 hundred at bats this season and then make some kind of judgement.

    We are in last place, yet persist in playing Adam Duvall who is batting less than 0.190; he’s on the Interstate and has been all year.

    And play Brendan Dixon too. They ‘re going to screw him up by just sitting.

    Dixon in Left, Schebler in Center, Winker in Right. keep them out there for three weeks and see what happens. It can’t get much worse.

    NOOOOOOOOOO! We must play Billy! We must play Duvall!

    For a last place team, and by a lot, this all seems tedious in the extreme.