Last night saw Jesse Winker hit a go-ahead 2-run homer in the 10th inning to put the Cincinnati Reds on top of the Los Angeles Dodgers for good. It was his 5th home run of the year, and his second hit of the night. His first hit of the night extended his hitting streak to 11 games – the longest current streak in Major League Baseball. He’s played in 17 games this year and he’s had hits in 15 of them. One of the games he didn’t get a hit in was a game in which he was a pinch hitter and only had one at-bat. In the other game he went 0-3 with a walk and a run scored.
Kenley Jansen is one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball. He’s been in the big leagues since 2010 and in his 12 seasons he’s posted a 2.40 ERA and picked up 317 saves for the Dodgers. He’s struck out 949 batters with just 176 walks in 646.1 innings pitched. By and large he’s had that success with one pitch – a cutter. In his career he’s thrown it 84% of the time, but it’s such a good pitch that even if you know it’s likely coming, you still can’t do a ton with it. Unless you’re Jesse Winker.
“I know he throws a lot of cutters,” Winker said after the game. “I got a great scouting report from Z (hitting coach Alan Zinter) before, had a plan and just kind of went for it. Just tried to put the barrel on the ball and hit it hard somewhere. It got up and got out and I was pumped about that.”
Hit it hard, he did. Winker’s home run went 375 feet before landing in the stand in left field. And he hit it at 102 MPH off of the bat. It was the first home run that Kenley Jansen has given up since September 8th of last year – a span of 16 appearances.
“That is a unicorn cutter, let me tell you – that thing is crazy,” said Reds reliever Tejay Antone after the game of Kenley Jansen’s cutter. “Very, very impressive job by Winker. But he hits. There’s no question about it – that dude can hit.”
That dude can hit, indeed. Since the start of 2017, Winker’s first year in the Major Leagues, there have been 347 players who have recorded at least 750 plate appearances. Only 25 of those players have an OPS higher than Winker’s .878. And he seems to be getting better. In 2018 and 2019 he put up an OPS of .836 and .830. Since the start of 2020 he’s put up an OPS of .991 in 257 plate appearances, hitting .295/.401/.590. The sample size there is still small, but it’s not insignificant, either.
At the start of the day on Tuesday, Jesse Winker leads the National League with a .382 batting average. His .432 on-base percentage ranks 6th in the league. His .691 slugging percentage ranks second in the league. And his 1.124 OPS also ranks second in the league – only Ronald Acuña Jr. has a higher OPS at 1.224!
Good hitters tend to have positive numbers in Fangraphs “Win Probability Added” stat because, well, they hit. And when you record hits or walks, it increases the odds that your team will win. Given the previous few paragraphs it seems pretty established that Jesse Winker is a good hitter. He currently trails just Acuña Jr. and Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani (WHY ARE WE NOT TALKING ABOUT HIM MORE?!) in Major League Baseball in WPA.
The odds are against Jesse Winker continuing to hit .382. It’s not impossible, but it’s incredibly improbable. But the odds seem pretty good that Winker’s going to continue to rake. He’s been an above-average hitter since the day he stepped onto a big league field and he’s getting better. The power is playing more now than it has in the past and it’s helped take him to that next level.