2017 Reds

Is Jesse Winker’s Time Finally Here?

If you haven’t heard, the Reds are rebuilding and have acquired and drafted an impressive group of young, talented players. That’s important because teams that rebuild typically have insufficient talent throughout the system, which is why they were bad in the first place.

The Reds mostly likely hit rock bottom in 2015 and have begun their ascent to more respectable levels. The heights to which they will rise depend on how well they develop the young talent they’ve collected. The way they’ve handled young pitchers thus far is perplexing at best, but we can clearly see the Reds development plan for their position players.

They’ve rightfully stayed with Jose Peraza in spite of his struggles this season and troubling offensive profile. Scott Schebler looked lost for the first few weeks of April, and the team’s patience with him has paid dividends. Last season, when Eugenio Suarez hit dreadfully in May (.173/.229/.357) and scuffled at third base early, the Reds let him adjust.

Giving young players with limited MLB experience a chance to adjust to the most advanced game on earth is prudent. It usually takes both pitchers and hitters time to figure out the speed of the game and overcome weaknesses that MLB players can expose. Mike Trout struggled early, as did Clayton Kershaw. It happens to almost everyone.

How long teams give a player to figure it out depends on many factors including progress made, age, and other players waiting in the wings. Players can provide value in different ways as well.

Billy Hamilton is playing in his fourth full season at age 26. If you believe the defense and base running metrics, he has been an above-average player overall producing between 2.0 and 3.7 WAR over the last three seasons. He’s the best combination of defense and base running in the game.

His problem has always been with the bat, and if we are honest, he hasn’t really improved since he reached the Majors. Right now, Hamilton’s 56 wRC+ places him among the five worst offensive players in baseball. He’s never been better than 21% worse than league average with the bat.

Do his virtues overcome his shortcomings at the plate? How long should the Reds wait for Hamilton to improve? Those are difficult questions to answer, especially with a potential elite bat waiting in the wings.

Jesse Winker has seemingly played in the Reds system since the dawn of creation. In reality, he was drafted as an 18-year-old in 2012 and methodically made his way through the minors, ranking as high as 26th on national prospect rankings (MLB). To this point, Winker has slashed .298/.398/.450 in his minor league career and currently sports an .810 OPS at AAA.

While impressive, Winker does have his deficiencies. By all accounts, Winker is a below-average runner who will likely be middling defensively. Since coming to AAA, Winker has also experienced a power outage that’s concerning for a corner outfielder.

Keep in mind that Winker did show plenty of power from rookie ball through AA. In 2015, after struggling to start the season in AA Pensacola, Winker slugged .497 and posted a .186 ISO from June 2nd until the end of the season. He hit 11 home runs in 345 plate appearances during that span and 13 dingers overall that year. The power is there somewhere and could re-emerge at some point.

Maybe it’s already begun. In Winker’s last six games spanning AAA and the Majors, he’s doubled six times, a sign that he might be beginning to drive the ball with authority.

Even if the power doesn’t return in full force, Winker has proven that he can punish a baseball. Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs gives Winker’s future bat grade a 70 on the 20-80 scale, which is elite territory. It’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t like Winker’s approach and hit ability. But as we know, Winker has not only hit well at AAA, he’s hit a positional roadblock as well.

The Reds corner outfielders, Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler, have bashed opposing pitching for 35 home runs thus far in 2017. The two sluggers have mirrored each other in production with Duvall producing 117 wRC+ and 1.4 WAR to Schebler’s 116 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. No one in their right mind would want to take those two out of the lineup, though a trade could be a possibility.

Winker’s ready, but it would take removing Hamilton from the lineup and moving Scott Schebler to centerfield to get Winker everyday at bats. That move comes with its own set of risks. While Schebler is athletic, he is a significant downgrade from Hamilton and likely a poor centerfielder. Winker may also be a downgrade in right from the current structure.

And yet, at 23, Winker is likely the future in one of the corner spots. If this truly is the year of sorting, the Reds shouldn’t keep him in purgatory forever. He needs a couple hundred at bats in the Majors to begin to adjust.

To get Winker those at bats, the Reds could bench Hamilton or explore some type of platoon system where Schebler slides over to center three or four times a week.

Benching Hamilton completely is tough because he is still only 26, and his defense makes up for plenty of the sins of the pitching staff. I can’t bring myself to that point yet even though I see the argument. It doesn’t help that Schebler looks like an extreme drop off on defense.

But the Reds will have to make a decision sooner or later about which three outfielders they want to play going forward and to wisely decide, Winker needs to play substantially this season. If not right now, it needs to happen soon.

Maybe the Reds package a current outfielder with something else at the trade deadline. If so, Winker will get two months of regular playing time. If all four outfielders remain, the Reds should make Billy a part-time player and give Winker as many plate appearances as possible.

He’s too good to keep down in AAA forever. If Winker’s time isn’t now, it better be coming very soon. At some point, the future needs to become the present.

55 thoughts on “Is Jesse Winker’s Time Finally Here?

  1. “In 2015, after struggling to start the season in AA Pensacola, Winker slugged .497 and posted a .186 ISO from June 2nd until the end of the season. He hit 11 home runs in 345 plate appearances during that span and 13 dingers overall that year.”

    If it is one thing we have learned from Doug Gray about the stadium in Pensacola, is that it suppresses LH power hitting. With those numbers in Pensacola, there is hope that he will have that power re-emerge with the Reds.

    • It has to be there somewhere. I am hoping it is still the wrist injury playing a factor, maybe with him slightly affecting his swing/approach and that the power come back over time.

  2. The other side of the coin (or at least another side) is Hamilton’s service time. Because WJ promoted Hamilton before he was major-league ready and before he had prvoen anything at AAA, WJ burned two years of service time for Hamilton with nothing to show for it. Now team control for Hamilton is waning. It’s likely that Hamilton will never hit at the major league level and even with additional development time at AAA would probably never have hit at the major league level, but the service time issue is still relevant.

    There are multiple CF options making their way through the minor league system, but none of them are nearing major league readiness yet. In two years, the Reds will lose Hamilton to FA and there should be replacements waiting in the wings by that time, but the Reds will lose Hamilton and get nothing in return if they wait.

    Every team can carry one no-hit defensive specialist and Hamilton qualifies as a no-hit, superior defensive specialist who also providesd elite baserunning value. Hamilton has value in a trade but that value diminishes every season with the loss of team control and increased arbitration cost. The Reds are carrying two no-hit defensive specialists and they can not afford to do that.

    Put Hamilton on the market now for the 2017 trade deadline and if he doesn’t move this season, trade him during the off season. Roll the dice with Schebler in CF. I never liked that option before, but the Reds never had a stacked OF before and just needed a place for everyone to play. Everyone remembers the defensive disaster of Choo roaming CF, but they also remember the superior top-of-the-lineup the Reds had that season with Choo and Votto setting the table. They made DatDude a HOF candidate for one season with all the RBI’s available for the pickins. Now we wouldn’t use Schebler as a top-of-the-lineup hitter as he plays CF, but Winker & Votto at the top of the lineup would again provide an elite table-setting tandem. Just imagiune what Suarez, Schebler, Duvall and Mesoraco will accomplish with Winker and Votto setting the table for them! Shoot, we’re not even including Senzel in the equation. Then we also have Herrera, Blandino & Long making a beeline for the 25-man roster along with Senzel, followed by a plethora of OF prospects.

    • I agree with this all. Plus I’m pretty sure Schebler would do better in center than Choo did years ago. Choo has horrible but like you said his bat was worth it. Same for Duvall, Winker, and Schebler

      • Choo’s bat was great, but unless my memory is playing tricks, that year’s edition of the Reds did not win the WS or the NLCS. Because of Choo’s defense? No, but it’s never about one player, and generally, weak defensive teams aren’t very successful. Billy’s hitting is troubling, and I wonder if that factor would depress his chances of getting a rich arbitraton award. We need to see what Winker does on a regular basis before too many other decisions are made.

  3. With some regular PT in the majors, we’ll get a good view of his power from StatCast.

    In his first DH game, remember the 3 flyouts to left field? Hit at 80, 89, and 87mph. Fly balls in that range almost never go for hits.

    The two-run single, however, was hit at 99mph. With the right inclination and angle, that is a home run in a lot of parks.

    Yesterday, he lined out to CF at 97mph, flied out at 80 mph, doubled at 100.6 mph, then grounded out at 96mph.

    In that 97-98 range is where you want to be with ground balls and line drives. If you can get it in the air around 99-100, you have a shot at a home run to LF or RF, then at 101-102 is where you have a shot at HR to CF.

    Winker seems to have the ability to hit the ball hard-ish in a small sample… just needs to get comfortable, I’d say.

    • And with the threat of hitting the ball hard’ish’, Winker’s plate discipline comes into play. Having the possibility of two hitters at the top of the lineup who can get on base 40% of the time and collect extra base hits by the bushel makes the Reds lineup look fearsome.

      • Agreed. My current dream is see Winker-Votto go 1-2, followed by Suarez, Schebler, and Duvall. That would be a potent run scoring machine, I think.

      • Its all relative though? If you can’t hit the ball out of the park then capable ML starters aren’t going to nibble and ending up walking you that often! I would think he could pull off atleast .350ish obp if they play him semi-regularly. I think he’s going back down though…Prusty has to get Billy going just like Arroyo just needed to work on some things!

    • This is good info. Thanks for sharing. Comfort should definitely help as might a little time in the weight room and some learning at the feet of the Vottomaster should Jesse be so inclined.

  4. Nice post, Nick. Your examples of players (Schebler, Duvall etc.) working their way through early-career issues is interesting. Billy Hamilton doesn’t seem like he’s a better hitter now than he was four years ago. There’s plenty of data to back that up, too.

    I wonder if the angst over Jesse Winker’s power is misplaced or at least needs to be dialed back. If the Reds view Winker as a leadoff type hitter because of his batting average and on-base skills, power is secondary. And he does hit with more power than players like Billy Hamilton, Ben Revere etc. It’s not like that. And Winker could easily grow into more power, as many major league players do. Would we not be satisfied with 15 HR per year?

    My biggest concern about Winker is that the Reds have pigeon-holed him into a “power hitting corner outfielder” role and see his lack of power as disqualifying him for that role. They’ll do what the AAA manager has done and bat him 7th. Instead, they should relish the fact they have a good-OBP guy who could lead off and have some power.

    • Agree 100%. Good managers (in all industries) try their best to match the employee’s skills with their tasks.

    • Winker’s still youngish and will naturally fill out some. This said, after getting a better look at him this week, I think the first step is to get him hooked up with a nutritionist and personal trainer in the off season to build up his strength. That could make a telling difference given the exit speed data Patrick cited above.

  5. And to add to the above… I did come calculations for fun… here is the list of how many ABs per 100mph ball hit.

    Schebler 4.45
    Duvall 6.00
    Suarez 6.62
    Lorenzen 7.00
    Votto 7.37
    Kivlehan 7.40
    Gennett 7.75
    Turner 9.33
    Cozart 9.95
    Mesoraco 10.33
    Winker 11.00
    Barnhart 12.67
    Peraza 16.19
    Alcantara 17.50
    Hamilton 139.50

    I expect Winker’s numbers to be in that 9 range around Cozart once he gets a better sample size. Same with Mesoraco. Should be in the 7.5-8.5 range, I’d say.

    That isn’t a typo for Billy. Has hit 2 balls over 100mph this year.

    • Wow! So basically we can expect Billy to square one up roughly 5 to 6 times this year. I enjoy his D and baserunning but I can’t imagine an outfield of Duvall, Scheb, and Winker would provide less total value than what we’re getting with Billy included right now. Thanks for those calculations, very interesting.

  6. Nice article Nick.
    I enjoyed reading the comments as well.
    I think if Winker gets enough at bats, he will answer any and all questions.

  7. I think Atlanta bats Nick Markakis 6th or something? The current version of Markakis could be pretty close to the rookie Winker’s capabilities.

    • But you would agree its time to give Winker an extended look to answer the questions?

  8. Billy Hamilton and Charlie Blackmon are both lead off hitters. Both play for teams who are very good offensively.

    Charlie Blackmon is a superior offensive player to Hamilton….that is beyond argument.

    Charlie Blackmon has been on base 107 times this year and has been driven in by his teammates 46 times. Billy Hamilton has been on base 86 times and has been driven in 43 times. Blackmon has 25 more plate appearances and has been on base 21 more times…..Blackmon also has 14 more HR’s…again, he is a better offensive player.

    Blackmon has 30 more hits in 25 more PA’s. He has walked 1 more time in 25 more PA’s. Blackmon has been driven in 3 more times despite being on base 21 more times in 25 more PA’s. The Rockies have the 4th highest OPS and the Reds the 6th. Both players are surrounded by other good players.

    Assuming both players get 600 PA’s, Blackmon will score 25 more runs than Hamilton…about 1 run per week. Of those 25 runs, all 25 will come from the fact that Blackmon is on pace to hit 25 more HR’s than Hamilton.

    • And if scoring runs was the only way that hitters contributed to offense this might prove … something?

      But of course, players contribute to run scoring by driving them in, too. Blackmon has driven in 54 runs with wRC+ of 134. Hamilton has driven in 19 runs with wRC+ of 56.

      Plus, when you frame statistics this way (per week) it tends to trivialize them. How many additional runs does Hamilton’s defense prevent per week compared to the average player? How many runs does Hamilton’s base stealing contribute per week? Both of those numbers are WAY less than one.

      • Lets put LeMahieu up against Peraza while you’re at it! LeM won the batting title last year and is hitting .304 with 42 runs this year batting 2nd. Peraza swings once or twice and goes and sits down again. We just can’t carry both of them! One batting 9th could work but Prusty don’t play that! I sort of follow Tampa because I have several of their players in fantasy. Dickerson has led off…Souza the other day. Kiermeier too….they’ve prob had 4-5 guys leadoff atleast. Why does the Reds rebuild always involve the same #*$& down the same ineffectual way….day after day….week after week?

      • No reasonable person would chose Hamilton over Blackmon. Because of his power, Blackmon’s offensive contributions are vastly superior. However, Blackmon isn’t an option for the Reds.

        When Hamilton leads off an inning he’s actually a decent offensive player. When he faces a pitcher for the 1st time in a game, he’s actually pretty decent. He’s bad the 2nd time and awful the 3rd….which is the complete opposite of almost anyone else.

        He’s rather good in the 1st inning and the 7th…the 2 innings that are most likely to have a first shot at the pitcher. Does he see more fastball when leading off an inning since teams don’t respect his power and no one wants Hamilton on 2nd with Votto up and less than 2 outs? Maybe…probably. Is he more likely to be thrown breaking pitches when he doesn’t lead off and there are likely already outs on the board? Probably. Is his inability to hit in those situations correctable? At this point, probably not.

        My point is that his ability to score, due to his speed, at least partially offsets his inability to consistently get on base.

        • WHen he’s not beat down and out of the lineup because he’s 150 lbs year after year after year! You’re def not wrong and he might be the best defensive outfielder I’ve ever seen! His arm is amazing for how scrawny he is! He just needs to bat 9th or accept a def replacement/pinchrunner role which he probably wouldn’t do? If the Reds pitchers ever improve enough where we’re in a lot of 1 run games late then he becomes a big weapon off the bench as a pinchrunner!

        • We have every stat and metric to measure run creation and offensive productivity.
          Billy fails at everything.
          He cant hit. He cant get on base. He cant hit for power. He cant create runs.
          He doesn’t even hit the ball hard, Patrick’ s data is eye-opening.

          His speed is great….except you fail to account he never walks and only hits singles. He never drives himself in with a home run.
          He has to steal 120 bases to make up for that.
          He does 2-3 incredible things a month.
          Ill take a guy who jogs around the bases 15 times a year and half jogs to second 30x on routine doubles and walks 80x- Mr Winker.

          We have all the data on Billy Hamilton. Unfortunately, Billy is awarded style points. Every good thing he does counts more than anyone else’s good thing.
          There is an exchange rate for Billy’s plays. Just ask Phil Castellini ‘s marketing guys.
          he has the conversion chart.

          1 Billy stolen base = 2 Duvall home runs
          1 Billy great catch in CF= 15 Votto Walks
          1 Billy single =5 Iglesias Strike-outs
          1 Billy double= 3 Schebler home runs
          2 Billy hits and a walk and a leaping catch = 4 Scooter home runs in a game.
          1 Billy mad Dash from first to score =3 Reds wins

  9. So many people love to talk about his lack of power. Sorry, but I really don’t care about his lack of power. First, we have plenty of people for that. Second, we need people to get on base for those “power guys” to drive in. That’s where Winker will help out, I believe. I mean, seriously, it might be nice to have a team where all 8 regulars hit 30 HR’s for the season. However, if there isn’t anyone on base, that’s only 240 runs still. The Cards won the WS several years ago with poor defense and practically no power game. How? They had great pitching. And, every regular had a 350+ OBP.

    My concern is that Winker is serviceable on defense. As long as he’s serviceable on defense, he should be fine.

    • Ya with the amount power in this lineup what we really need to complement them is some high obp guys.

    • You can never have too much power and this team will not be the same when Winker hits his prime. Cozart will be gone, Votto is already 33. Who knows about Duvall and Schebler. Winker almost instantly joins Suarez as a core guy if he can find that power from his early career.

      • Votto is having his one of best years at 33. I’m kind of curious to see if his decline will be gradual or sudden. My bet is on gradual.

        • I also think gradual. I thought home runs would be the first thing to go, but with the ball being juiced (perhaps) and Votto lofting the ball more, he may run of a few years of 30+ homers.

          Once he finally does lose his power, I think we’ll see a guy who hits a lot of line drives and dumps singles all over the field, while still maintaining a good walk rate.

          I honestly can’t see a scenario where a hitter like Votto ever has below a 100 wRC+ for an extended period of time. Remember when he played on one leg for 62 games in 2014? His wRC+ in that season was higher than Schebler/Duvall/Suarez right now. Crazy, e h?

          • after a few years of dropoff, I’m thinking Sean Casey in his prime, which i’m good with.

        • Definitely not saying to count Votto out yet, but thinking long-term (and there are a lot of other things that can happen, I understand), Winker has the potential to anchor the lineup in a Votto-esq way if he can regain the power. Without it, he is a 110-120 wRC+ guy with so-so defense and baserunning. Not really someone to build around.

          • I don’t think anyone ever thought (thinks) Winker was a player to build a team around, I know the Old Cossack didn’t. I think what had (has) people excited is the prospect of bringing some serious on-base skills skills to the team, something the team has consistently lacked for decades (sans Votto). That’s what Winker brings to the team. The concept of on-base skills is something to build the team around, along with power, plate discipline and yes, speed.

          • Shchi,

            I do agree on that. I don’t believe Winker is a guy to build around. However, there are very few minor leaguers where a club would worry about building around. I wouldn’t think the Cubs were worried about that even when Bryant was in the minors.

            The question would be more like, “Can Winker be a guy to build around?” I don’t believe that, either. However, I will say, I believe Winker is a guy you want to be around that guy you want to build around.

            Again, when building every team, hardly any if any team ever worries about having power at every position. That simply isn’t realistic. Thus, you will want to make sure you have hitters, whether power or OBP guys. Will Winker be a liability as a hitter? I really don’t think so. As I stated, as long as he is at least serviceable as a fielder, I believe he will be a good major leaguer.

  10. GABP will certainly help him, and like Steve said i think we would all take 15-20 dongs per year, .280AVG/.360OBP. Average glove, Average range, Average arm. He would be the definition of adequacy as our corner OF for a long time, sign me up.

  11. Duvall came up a 3rd baseman, Suarez came up a shortstop. If Cozart is out why not move Duvall back to 3rd Suarez back to Short and Peraza to 2nd to make room for Winker in left?

    • Duvall was a very poor defensive 3B, but is a very good LF. Suarez was a poor SS in 2015 but is a very good defensive 3B. Suarez might be a better defensive SS than he showed in 2015 just like he is a much better 3B this season than he showed in the 1st half of last season, but what he showed in 2015 was very bad.

  12. Great article Nick.

    IF this is a rebuild year Winker has to play regularly. Hamilton tends to break down anyway so why not start a platoon as proposed in another great article here a while back?

  13. What if there was a hybrid. What if Schlebler starts in Center and Winker in Right. Then, when Winker gets on base late in the game, insert Billy to run and then go back to the current configuration. The defense goes up and it maximizes what each player’s skillset and the value they bring to the club.

    • Makes sense. Also Billy is much better hitting rh than lh, correct? Platoon could also work with that.

      • Billy’s been much better this year from the left side than the right, but for his career, his numbers are similar from both sides, especially before this season. A little more power from the right but not much.

        Left .634 OPS 0.77 ISO
        Right .601 OPS 1.02 ISO

  14. If they would put Shebs in CF and Winker in lf Duvall in RF. Then they lose no power if Winker only hits 5 a season they gain power over Billy.
    I think Winker’s floor is 10 HRs and his ceiling is 20-25.

  15. I’m not sure that demoting Billy H. to a part time outfielder & late inning baserunner is such a good idea. If he’s not going to be your everyday CF & leadoff hitter, then make a clean sweep of it & make a trade. The Reds future is about seeing another 250 AB from Duvall, Schebler, & Winker this season..

    • I agree with you, but I think it has more to do with value when making the decision to trade or demote. Unlike some other members, I think Hamilton has real value to the right team. The Reds are just not that team. Hamilton has more value to the Reds in trade than as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. That should be the driver in the decision.

      I would welcome Hamilton as a 5th OF to be utilized as a late-inning pinch runner and defensive replacement if the Reds can’t get equal value in a trade. That return in trade would come as a prospect(s) with upside potential and downside risk. Any aquiring team will understand Hamilton’s value and would have a need for Hamilton’s talents.

  16. When Hamilton leads off a game and/or inning his numbers are rather good. Unlike most players, he gets worse as the game goes on against the same pitcher. For instance, 30% of Votto’s RBI have come in the 1st….with most of those RBI actually being Hamilton. We also know that the Reds starters are worse than the relievers….so having your best defender playing early on is more beneficial than later on.

    So what if Winker pinch hits for Hamilton for his second or third at bat? You’re bringing in a better hitter at the exact moment the pitcher is starting to lose his mojo….and the Reds need for defensive wizardry is decreasing because better pitchers will be entering the game. Over the course of a game, Winker winds up with more PA’s than Hamilton….and Hamiltons PA’s align with when he has actually experienced success.

  17. Winker probably gets sent out tomorrow when Homer starts. He shouldn’t be sent out but he probably will be. Should be leading off.

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