Reds left fielder Jesse Winker is finally healthy this season, and as a result, is showing his offensive talent in a big way. He currently leads MLB in both batting average and slugging percentage and is top 3 in on-base percentage and OPS. It’s been an MVP-like season so far and because of that, it has led to people on social media comparing him with a certain teammate.
First baseman Joey Votto is a National Baseball Hall of Fame contender, and Winker is not close to that status. However, Winker is playing very close to Votto’s level at the same age Votto was in 2011. In fact, right now he’s hitting better than Votto did in 2011.
Author’s note: I am aware 2011 is one year after Votto won MVP and Winker did not win MVP last year. However, this comparison is happening because each of these years are their age 27 seasons. Votto had an excellent year in 2011 and finished in 6th in NL MVP voting.
Votto and Winker were both 23 years old when they made their MLB debut. Each player takes an excellent approach at the plate, as they have similar career walk rates. Winker’s is almost 12% (11.9%) while Votto’s is an eye-popping 15.9%. They also strike out at the same rate (17.4% for Winker and 17.9% for Votto). Obviously, Votto is going to have a bigger number of counting statistics than Winker because he’s played a lot longer, but their career slash lines are pretty similar. Votto’s is currently at .303/.418/.516. Winker’s sits at .290/.384/.508.
The stark difference between Winker and Votto comes from their splits against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. Winker and Votto are both left-handed, so they are most likely always going to be worse against left-handed pitchers. However, Winker’s splits have been notoriously bad in the past. For his career, Winker hits .310 against right-handed pitchers and .204 against left-handed pitchers.
In 2017, his rookie year, Winker hit .344 off right-handers and .120 off left-handers. In 2018, it was sitting at .321 against right-handers and .211 against left-handers. Same thing happened in 2019 when he hit .287 against right-handers and .163 against left-handers. 2020, however, brought a different result for the outfielder. In the shortened season, Winker actually hit better (.265) against left-handers than right-handers (.252).
Votto’s splits are not as drastic as Winker’s, hence the better numbers and overall, being a better hitter. For his career, Votto hits .310 against right-handed pitchers and .287 against left-handed pitchers. In his MVP season of 2010, he hit .347 against right-handers and .283 against left-handers. In his “should-have-been”MVP season of 2017, Votto hit .331 against right-handers versus .292 against left-handers.
Age 27 Season
Through 41 games this season, Winker is hitting .348/.403/.665 with 13 home runs, 34 runs scored, 28 RBI, and a 187 wRC+. His strikeout rate is a little higher than his career rate at 19.9% and his walk rate is lower at only 8.0%, but he’s absolutely raking at the plate. He’s also hitting lefties better. He’s hitting .370 against right-handers and .250 against left-handers. The splits aren’t as drastic, which is going to lead to higher overall numbers.
In his age 27 season in 2011, Votto played 161 of 162 games and hit .309/.416/.531 with 29 home runs, 101 runs scored, 103 RBI, and a 157 wRC+. In 2011, Votto hit .333 against left-handers and .299 against right-handers.
It was an incredible season for Votto and it earned him sixth place in MVP voting. His stats that year also puts it into perspective just how insane Winker is currently hitting. Will Winker be this good all season? Maybe, but slumps do happen. A slump happened to him at the beginning of the 2020 season when he had just two hits in his first 22 plate appearances. But he rebounded in August and that carried him to a decent 2020 season. And that 2020 season served as a springboard for his outstanding 2021 season.
Winker’s always been a good hitter. Many forget that he was a first round draft pick in 2012. He made his debut in 2017, and despite the injuries he dealt with in 2018 and 2019, he has a career 135 wRC+. He may not be as good as Votto, but he’s closer than a lot of fans may realize.
All stats current through May 26, 2021. Stats courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Savant.