Reds manager David Bell took Jesse Winker out of the game on Tuesday evening with the bases loaded and a left-handed pitcher on the mound. The Reds were up one run in the 6th inning at the time. It was not the first time that Bell has pulled Winker against a left-handed reliever, but it was one of the biggest spots of the season that he did so.

There is a lot of debate about if Winker should or should not get playing time against lefties. It is fairly easy to look up Winker’s career OPS vs LHP of .566. The first thought when you see that number is probably “small sample size.” Winker has 105 career plate appearances against lefties, so while that is far from enough to make any definitive long-term decisions, that is quite a few unsuccessful attempts.

David Bell and the Reds front office are assuredly looking further than just Winker’s first 105 plate appearances against lefties in the big leagues. Winker has failed to hit against lefties at any major level. Here are his minor league numbers vs LHP:

2018 – .690 OPS
2017 – .653 OPS
2016 – .756 OPS
2015 – .654 OPS

Those are near Billy Hamilton level numbers. There is simply no denying that at this point in his career, Winker is not a good hitter vs lefties. When you combine that with his career -19 defensive runs saved, it makes it all the more wise to pull Winker late in a game for someone like Phillip Ervin against a lefty.

The next part of the debate is the development. Does benching Winker vs LHP now mean that he will never learn to hit them? The brutal truth is that Winker will probably never be good enough against lefties.

I looked up numbers for LHB vs LHP since 2000. There are 76 players that had 1,000+ plate appearances. 47 of those batters were below average hitters in those situations.

Some of the players on this list that were really bad are surprising: Jay Bruce (89), Chris Davis (87), Ryan Howard (85), Jason Heyward (82) and Eric Hosmer (81). Davis, Heyward and Hosmer are being compensated very well also.

It should also come as no surprise that the best LHB vs LHP over that span is Joey Votto, who has a remarkable 142 wRC+. The next best is Jason Giambi all the way down at 125. It would not be wise to compare Winker to Votto as a reason for expecting him to become a good hitter against lefties. Votto is a special breed.

The good news for Jesse Winker is that he absolutely destroys right-handed pitchers. Winker has a very good .901 career OPS vs RHP. This post shouldn’t be an indictment of Winker’s shortcomings, but rather that there are probably dozens of LHB throughout the MLB that shouldn’t play regularly vs LHP. It would probably be in the Reds best short and long term interest to play Winker sporadically against lefties and in low leverage situations. If Winker ends up drastically improving and beating the odds, that would be terrific, but it should not be expected.

 

All stats include games played through April 23, 2019.

14 Responses

  1. Big Ed

    I slightly favored letting Winker hit there, for development reasons, but understood the arguments against it, particularly the defensive argument.

    Votto had a OPS against LH in his rookie year of .862; didn’t know where to look for his MiLB splits. But note that even Votto has slipped against LH pitchers. His OPS last year v. LH was .758, and .556 this year over a very small sample.

    The development issue is that by limiting Winker’s chances now against LH, then it is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he never bats against LHs (and he has 8 ABs so far this year), then it is a certainty that he will never get better. At his age, I think he deserves more chances.

    I offer Paul O’Neill. He couldn’t hit lefties in Cincinnati. His OPS v. LH in Cincinnati over his last 2 years (1991 and 1992) were .562 and .574. He didn’t do much better in his first 2 years with the Yankees, posting .597 and .571. In 1995, though, he turned it around at age 32, with an OPS of .820 v. LH, and followed the next 2 years at .739 and .766. So, the skill can be developed. (Maybe hitting Winker now against LH will turn him into a good player at age 32 for the Cubs or Yankees??)

    The other variable is the 4-man bench. If Winker is replaced in the 6th, there is a chance that in the 8th or 9th, the Reds would prefer a LH hitter, but he is lost.

    And what your work also highlights is how nice it would be for the Reds to have a LH starting pitcher.

    • Nick Kirby

      I don’t believe they have splits for when Votto was in the minors, unfortunately.

      • Doug Gray

        We’ve got them from 2005-2007.

        vsLefties:
        .196/.275/.315
        .262/.357/.399
        .242/.354/.325

        vsRighties:
        .283/.353/.474
        .351/.438/.631
        .311/.390/.527

    • David Ward

      Nick deftly refuted the argument against Winker hitting against lefties, as he has -19 defensive runs saved. As a result, if you don’t except the overwhelming evidence of his ineptitude against LHs, then any ABs that he receives should only come in early game, low leverage situations!

  2. Jeff Gangloff

    “It would probably be in the Reds best short and long term interest to play Winker sporadically against lefties and in low leverage situations. ”

    I like this.

  3. Doug Gray

    I’ll say that I believe Winker will come around against lefties. The reasoning is simple: He see’s the ball well, even if he hasn’t always hit the ball well against them. Most lefties don’t hit lefties because they strikeout against them at high rates. That’s not Winker.

    Looking at his minor league splits, you only cited the OPS. In 2015 he hit .211/.328/.326 against them. Yeah, that isn’t good. But it came with 16 walks and 23 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances. He had a bad BABIP and not much power (in a ballpark that kills power to RF).

    The next year he moved up to Triple-A and hit .264/.383/.373 with 19 walks and 22 strikeouts in 133 plate appearances against lefties. BABIP was normal and he performed solidly, but the power wasn’t there.

    In 2017 he hit .280/.385/.360 against lefties in Triple-A with 11 walks and 15 strikeouts. In the Majors that season it was .120/.154/.200 with a .143 BABIP.

    No clue if he’ll be able to tap into the power against lefties or not. But I’ve got faith that he’ll get on base against them given enough time to actually get beyond the small sample size in the Majors he’s shown thus far. Billy Hamilton he is not.

    • Scott C

      Doug, I agree with you. I believe that if Winker is given an opportunity he will hit left handers. In most cases, I would much rather have Winker batting in a high leverage situation against a LHP than having a RHH batting in that situation that has a high K rate.

  4. TR

    With time, if the Reds keep him around, Winker’s position will be first base. And given the chance, Winker will eventually hit lefthanded pitching adequately.

  5. GR8PNT

    It will be interesting to see how Winker fits in when Senzel arrives. I see more platooning in the future if Kemp remains in the picture. What happens to Schebler? With the minor league outfielders progressing it creates an even more complicated picture. I feel the same about the outfield as I did the pitching. There is a balance between now and development for the future that must be addressed. I believe the Reds organization failed Romano and pitchers like him. I don’t necessarily believe he was rushed but did not receive the developmental instruction to prepare him for MLB. I don’t want to see the same thing happen in the outfield. While the attention has been focused on Trammel and Siri, what about O’Grady?

  6. Dr Dan

    Why do you say Suarez’s days at 3B are numbered? He’s been plenty good enough there after the first month of 2016.

  7. Still a Red

    Winker is too good a hitter to sit him out against left handed pitchers on a regular basis..and he will improve. That said, there may be occasions late in the game where pinch-hitting for him against LHP is warranted, both offensively and defensively. I agree that doing it too early leaves him unavailable later in the game.

    He looked a little pissed when he was taken out in that situation, untypical of him. I was concerned. But I was heartened to see him smiling and congratulating Ervin for his walk.

  8. Dick

    I disagree with much of this, especially #3 and #4. What are the chances of Scooter being around after this year? Senzel is likely to stay in the outfield. India is a long way from proof he can play in the majors. And mostly, Votto is likely to be effective till at least 40, given his eye at the plate, his discipline, and his value for OBP over HR.