Plodding, ponderous, plain bad — all words used to describe Jesse Winker’s defense this season before his campaign ended with shoulder surgery. In particular when I wrote two weeks ago that Winker was the third-most valuable trade asset the Reds have, you all were quick to point out in the comments that Winker cannot possibly be ranked that high because good lord the man just can’t play defense.

I want to posit a different interpretation: Jesse Winker’s defense frankly doesn’t matter.

Before his injury, the rookie had a 128 wRC+ over 334 plate appearances, walked more than he struck out, and and about a quarter of his hits were for extra bases. Were Winker to have continued that 128 mark across the rest of the 2018 season, he would have the 17th highest wRC+ of all Major League outfielders, better than Lorenzo Cain, Gregory Polanco, George Springer, Odubel Herrera, and Nomar Mazara.

Yes, that’s a big “if” but consider this: In the four Minor League seasons where Winker logged more than the 330 PAs he had in 2018, Winker finished with wRC+s of 138 (A, 486 PA), 137 (AA, 526), 128 (AAA, 448), and 127 (AAA, 347). Winker is more likely than not a 128 wRC+ hitter is what I’m saying, which means he’s dang good at the plate.

So 200 words in, here are our givens for Jesse Winker:

  1. Bad at defense (Fangraphs has him at -11.4 Def rating for 2018, roughly worth -1.0 fWAR)
  2. Good at hitting (28% better than average in fact)

What we need to determine then is the threshold for how good at hitting does a player have to be to render their defensive incompetence irrelevant.

Some pertinent though not at illuminative examples:

— J.D. Martinez, the third most valuable outfielder in MLB according to fWAR, has a worse Def rating at -12.1 than Winker does. Some immediate flaws with using Martinez as comparison are A) he’s primarily used as a DH because his defense is horrid and B) he’s so much better at hitting than Winker that it’s laughable. Martinez has a 181 wRC+, which in a delicious twist of fate is the same distance to Winker as Winker is to our old friend Adam Duvall. If only the Reds had invented human-merging technology, they could have their own J.D. Martinez!*

(*The ethics here are, uh, murky.)

— Rhys Hoskins, owner of a 134 wRC+, carries -13.1 Def rating, which should make a nice point of comparison except that Hoskins is also an out-of-position first baseman. The Phillies have made it abundantly clear that they don’t care about his defense because they find his bat to be more valuable.

— Bryce Harper (!!) has the same -11.4 Def rating that Winker does and a wRC+ only a tick higher at 133. Would any of you claim that Harper is a less valuable commodity because his defense sucks? No! Bryce Harper is Bryce Harper and would’ve been the most valuable chip available at the Trade Deadline should Washington have wanted to move him. The problem with Harper, and why I call his example not that illustrative, is that Harper has had a down year at the plate after posting a 156 wRC+ last year and a 197 wRC+ in 2015. (2016 was also a down year for him with a 112 wRC+, but he was rumored to have played through injury that season.)

Harper, like Martinez, represents an offensive asset that no one will question, regardless of defensive inability. What we need instead as a reference are NL outfielders who post negative Def ratings. Luckily, there are quite a few of those.

Of the 48 National League outfielders with more than 300 PAs this season, 31 have posted a negative Def rating. Jesse Winker ranks third worst of the 31, tied with the aforementioned Harper and above the Marlins’ Derek Dietrich and Hoskins. However, Winker ranks ninth-best in that defensively-deficient group for wRC+.

Limiting the group only to those with a wRC+ of 114 — 145 and a negative Def rating leaves us with a selection comprised of these fellows:

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 5.14.26 PM.png

To be noted, Charlie Blackmon and Ian Happ fall below the cut and Juan Soto is just above it. Bryce Harper was excluded for the reasons mentioned above. Cody Bellinger and Rhys Hoskins are offset because both a natural first baseman.

Despite being the worst defensive outfielder, Jesse Winker falls squarely in the middle of offensive production. The Reds’ outfielder clearly has the least power of the group but makes up for it with the most prolific on-base skills.

Yasiel Puig makes the most intriguing point of comparison, with a comparable Def rating and 13 points less of wRC+. But none of this gets us any closer to a ratio of wRC+ to Def.

Knowing that 100 is average for wRC+, let’s set each player’s Def rating on a comparable 100-point adjusted scale. Of the 48 total NL outfielders, the lowest Def is -13.1 and the highest 11.2. Assuming a 0.0 Def sits equivalent to 100 with each 10 points of Def worth 50 points on an adjusted scale in either direction, then Lorenzo Cain, 11.2 Def, would have a 156 Def+. Our own Jesse Winker would have a 43 Def+.

As for a ratio, well this is going to venture into the territory known as “Wes making it up as he goes along.” For the sake of simplicity, I will say that an outfielder’s contributions at the plate are three times as valuable as their contributions in the field. An everyday outfielder will likely get more plate appearances than fielding opportunities, and if Dilson Herrera can play the outfield, then even the most routine opportunities aren’t too much of a worry.

Taking Winker’s 28 points above average, multiplying it by three gives us 84. Subtract the 57 points below average he is on defense, and voila: Jesse Winker’s offense compensates for his defense by an excess of 27 points.

If you want to make the argument that offense is only twice as valuable as defense, then Winker’s offense fails to overcome the deficit of his defense by one point. Either way, Yasiel Puig (our most accurate point of comparison) fails to overcome his defensive deficit with both multipliers, with a -0.5 mark (3x) and -15.5 (2x).

Winker’s defense does knock down his value quite a bit, but his hit tool ultimately renders that moot. Add in defensive superstar Billy Hamilton playing beside him and worries about Winker’s defense start to seem irrelevant. The Reds have a lot to worry about going into 2019, but Jesse Winker’s defense shouldn’t be near the top of the list. It doesn’t matter all that much after all.

10 Responses

  1. Scott C

    Defensive Metrics are not all that solid. I think they are a point of reference, but exactly how they are put together seem to be a little arbitrary. Personally I don’t think Def War is as important in LF as some other positions. In the OF a large number of plays you have to make are fairly routine fly balls. Winker does well on those. I think his reads are getting better. Now he can’t improve his speed, so there will be balls that get down or over his head that we might think Duvall would have caught that but Duvall had an OPS under 300. I would much rather have a LF who might not make the occasional play but give the team 4 good AB’s a game than one who makes the occasional great play but only gives you on average 1 good AB a game

  2. CP

    Once Winker’s power started showing up, his offense overcame his defensive deficiencies, in my opinion, but his complete lack of defense really caps his total value in a similar manner to all 1 or 2 tool players.

    What Wes really means is that, despite all the assertions, people don’t really trust defensive metrics all that much, and even when they claim they do, they’re willing to disregard them if they like a player’s offensive skill set.

    I mean, there isn’t even a caveat in there about the small sample size. When he got injured, Winker was on pace to have a worse season than Adam Dunn ever had in the OF for the Reds. He was terrible, but it is hard to believe he was ever that terrible.

    How much can you really trust WAR if you completely disregard defense the way Wes seems to be arguing? You might as well limit analysis to oWAR or wRC+ and then use the good ol’ fashioned eye test for defense.

  3. cfd3000

    Here’s a hypothetical. What if Winker has been struggling with a shoulder issue, gets healthy, and in 2019 hits more or less the same as he has this year, but hits 20 home runs instead of 7 (or a prorated 10)? I think if he’s a 20 home run Left Fielder with an OBP around .400 he’s a huge asset to the Reds offense and only a minor deduct for his defense. When the Reds get starting pitching sorted out, figure out where to play Senzel, Herrera, Gennett, Blandino, Ervin and Shed Long, and decide what to do about Billy Hamilton, Raisel Iglesias, David Hernandez, and one or two other guys, then I’ll start worrying about Winker’s defense.

  4. big5ed

    Others are saying that about Suarez, whose defense has faltered from last year. The Reds in 3 years may be at first base like they are this year at second base – 5 guys who can play that position but not any other.

  5. big5ed

    Well, one option is for Winker to work his tail off and actually get better in left field.

  6. roger garrett

    His defense doesn’t matter.I am told hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in all sports and he can hit.He can improve his defense with proper coaching regarding positioning and taking the correct angle.One thing that is always important and its how much ground you have to cover.That matters very little in GABP.

  7. Hanawi

    Defensive WAR is way overrated. I’m fine with some kind of value ranking for it, but I don’t think it approaches what you get from a high offensive WAR. Just look at how teams pay for offense versus defense. Winker is fine as the LF, but the problem is that they kept putting him in RF since Duvall apparently couldn’t play over there at all.

  8. Jim Walker

    Reds probably lose this game if Ervin doesn’t run down that slicing liner by Yelich in the 8th

  9. da bear

    Jesse Winker will be a more productive bat (assuming shoulder heals) than Dunn ever was (good for 45 games in a season at best) and defensively he’d have to play with his legs bound to play worse defense than Dunn.

    Time to play Winker, Ervin and Schebler and hope Ervin and Schebler can improve their throwing to become passable, their offense will play well enough for the Reds to compete with Milwaukee St Louis and Chicago