Jesse Winker is a good baseball player. He has proven this by being drafted in the top 50, producing in the minor leagues and earning top prospect rankings in both the Reds organization and the entire league. He played very well for the Reds in his brief stint last year, and he played very well to begin the 2018 season. He did not, however, play well during the month of May. So what exactly happened?

The short and easy answer is that he was in a slump. But hitters go into slumps all the time, so that does not really tell us anything. We want to know what the cause of it was.

You may have heard people saying that pitchers had made adjustments against him and that Winker had not found a way to adjust back, but the truth may be something simpler than that. Winker just did not hit well.

Winker’s calling card without a doubt is his hit tool. Watching him take at-bats draws easy comparisons to Joey Votto with his great patience and ability to seemingly put the bat on any pitch he sees. With that said, it makes sense that taking a less disciplined approach would affect his performance.

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After a great start to the year in terms of plate discipline, Winker started swinging at a lot more pitches outside the zone, which coincided with a steady decline of his BB% (though it was still high at 11.6%). Interestingly, his K% dropped even more and actually gave him a very high 1.29 BB/K ratio for the month. So while fewer walks definitely contributed to his decline in production, it was not like he was all the sudden swinging and missing a ton.

That narrows the issue down to the actual contact that he was making, which was slightly weaker and very groundball heavy, leading to a very low BABIP. These factors were essentially directly related to his production.

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Going back to the statement earlier about pitchers making adjustments, it does not appear that this was anything that pitchers were necessarily in control of. Pitch velocity was down slightly (89.2MPH vs 89.9MPH), but the types of pitches Winker saw were essentially the same ones that he tuned up in April. The only difference was that Winker put significantly more balls on the ground.

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If the pitch types were basically the same, then maybe it was the pitch location. Throwing more balls down in the zone would lead to more grounders. Maybe pitchers were exploiting something there?

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That does not appear to be the case. The locations are slightly different and maybe a little more down and inside, but it is not like there was an assault on the bottom edge of the zone. The difference was that rather than hitting line drives like he did in April, Winker was hitting grounders to the defenders.

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Taking another look at the huge drop in BABIP provides a little more insight. While a .385 for April is a bit high, coming all the way down to .180 for an entire month is more than just regression. There was definitely some bad luck at play there. Statcast helps validate that with xWOBA, which was significantly higher than Winker’s wOBA during both March/April (.407 vs .359) and his slumping May (.297 vs .237).

Another good look at how Winker’s fortune changed on ground balls is by looking at his Radial Chart produced by Baseball Savant. He “topped” 12 more balls during his slump than he had leading up to that point (30 vs 18) and had a significantly lower batting average on those balls (0.66 vs .277). That drop alone is significant, especially considering the small samples.

Opening Day to May 4th (Only Topped Balls Showing)

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May 5th to June 5th (Only Topped Balls Showing)

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Taking into account that he also had less quality contact in terms of Barrels and Solid Contact, it becomes clear that Winker simply ran into a rough stretch of hitting. This happens to every single player, even the superstars. Mike Trout had an 0-22 stretch earlier this year that saw his BABIP bottom out at 0.71 over 8 games. It didn’t last a whole month, because, well, he is Mike Trout. But the bottom line is that whatever Winker went through seems to have been temporary and was simply a growing pain for a still young and promising hitter.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Matt ironically became a diehard Reds fan while living in Pittsburgh and experiencing the 2013 Wild Card game. He is currently living in the land without baseball, Portland, OR, where you can find him exploring the great outdoors whenever he is not watching the Reds.

Join the conversation! 23 Comments

  1. Jerking him in and out of the lineup is what happened to Winker.

  2. If he really is that good then without any question he should play every day. That’s the case with any and all players who are considered the foundation for the future. Players like Hamilton,Duvall and Bailey aren’t part of the future. Trade them even if it means taking a hit momeywise. You won’t get much in return but they simply need to go.

  3. Just an outstanding analysis Matt. TYVM

    Winker got away from what brought him to the MLB level and paid the price in lost production. Why? The Old Cossack doesn’t even know what going on in his Old Noggin most of the time, so speaking to what Winker was going through certainly has no basis in actual knowledge or expertise. I will profer a possibility. I don’t think it has a direct relationship to playing time for Winker or even consistent playing time for Winker. I do think it might relate to expectations by those individuals controlling his playing time.

    The Reds organization is probably among the most old-school organizations in MLB, very possibly the most old-school organization in MLB. Ryan Hanigan went through the same problem during his entire career with the Reds. Joey Votto has gone through the same problem during his career with the Reds. When the people controlling your playing time or even active status in MLB are telling you that swing early, swing often and swing hard will keep you on the major league roster and earn you more consistent playing time, very few young players will ignore that ‘advice’ when they are on the cusp of their dream. Votto learned to ignore it. Hanigan learned to ignore it. Winker needs to learn to ignore it. The goal is not to walk, but to make the pitcher throw pitches you can barrell up and drive. Chasing pitches outside the hitting zone will put virtually any player in a funk and provide a huge advantage to the pitchers. Ask Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton how effective chasing pitches outside the hitting zone can be!

    • When I looked at this data, I had the exact same thought. Imagine you are a rookie, or 1st full year player, and you git .298/.375/.529 in your first 100+ plate appearances the year before. That isn’t enough to earn you every day starts. You start out the next year hitting .305/.414/.390 the fist month of the season. Meanwhile, your main competition hits .175/.257/.381. You are STILL not given a starting job. I don’t think it is a stretch to assume anyone in that situation would come to the conclusion that drawing walks is not valued in the organization and the way to increase playing time is to start swinging for the fences.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head Cossack. Jesse just needs to be Jesse, just as Joey is Joey.

  4. Over the last week he’s hitting .200 so his problem(s) may not be over.

    • You’re right that Winker is hitting just .200 in his last 7 games.

      You know what he’s hitting in his last 8 games? .286

      How about his last 9 games? .313

      Be careful using arbitrary endpoints, especially over short time periods.

      • The sky has fallen Steve. And here you are trying to bring your “logic” into this. 😛

  5. I guess the frustrating thing to me about Jessie Winker is he is another 1 tool player. the reds cannot seem to develop multi tool players anymore in the outfield and middle infield positions. used to be our main strength.

    • If you aren’t counting plate discipline as a tool, you need to rethink your toolbox. And it’s too early to judge Winker’s power and defense. His speed is average on this team.

      • Call me crazy Steve but I think Winker has gotten faster. I know he is no blazer but to my eye he looks like he is faster now than he was in April . April he looked like he was stuck in mud. His defense has been better as well. Maybe he is taking a better approach towards every part of his game. Maybe by playing every day he feels more comfortable. Ask any player and they will tell you that they need to play every day.

  6. Terrific breakdown, Matt. The first graph has a key bit of data in it. During his slump, Winker swung at more pitches out of the strike zone. When you swing at bad pitches, the quality of contact declines.

    So part of what was happening to Winker, maybe a big part, is he lost his plate discipline for a while. Not surprising for a rookie.

    We see time and again the key to successful hitting is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone. Joey Votto proves that. Both Suarez and Cozart made huge gains in plate discipline last season corresponding to jumps in production.

  7. Winker can and will hit. He needs to hit for power, though. There’s not a lot out there, outside of maybe his frame, that insists he eventually will. Until he starts hitting for power I would classify him as slightly overrated.

    • I realize it was just one at bat but the home run he hit in Pittsburgh last year tells me that somewhere in that body he has more than enough power. It was a bomb, not just a home run.

  8. It seemed to me the pitchers- especially lefties – were relentless pounding him inside and he did not adjust- lots of weak /jammed contact, foul balls down the line to get in early bad counts and swinging at inside balls for K’s.

    Will he start tonight against the lefty? I doubt it. Duvall/ Hamilton/ and Schebler will.
    He needs to play everyday and get 600 PA and get a rhythm/ timing/so he can fine tune his plate discipline and barrel up some balls. He should have played every day in 2017. He is still a rookie with the potential for growth as a hitter and player and professional. Suarez grew. Schebler is growing. But this FO and ownership group is clearly married to Hamilton and Duvall. Hamilton got 2500 at bats and is regressing badly. Duvall has had 3 years and is regressing badly. Unless Winker starts hitting for power, the current quagmire will continue.

    It’s one thing to not commit to young pitchers who can’t succeed at AAA or throw strikes. It’s another to not commit to a hitter who is a top 100 prospect at 24 and has hit everywhere hes played. Yet, he’s blocked by 2 of the worst hitters in baseball on a team destined for 90 losses(100? ) again.

    • Totally agree. He needs to play every day to get into a rythym. Winker won’t rip 30 homers but a 300 average and high OBP a long with 15 homers and I’m ok with that. You don’t need a team with all home run power. You need guys to get on base in front of Suarez, Schebler …

  9. Great research and analysis.
    I think what happened though was the Reds incompetent front office intervened and were dictating to Riggleman roster usage in the OF. Then the fiasco of “ending” the 4-man OF rotation came about. And then it was unofficially back on in 2 days time.
    Sometimes batting leadoff can be a little overwhelming even without being jerked around the way Winker was. Maybe it was getting to Winker a little bit and causing him to push too much and not relaxing in the box. I like Winker more in the #5 and #6 holes for now.
    Schebler leading off has been a good experiment so far. Don’t know how long this will last. And with Votto batting 3rd, it makes it hard to put another LH hitter in the #2 hole with Winker or Gennett. or even Tucker. Senzel could help immensely there. But some help is still needed at the bottom of the lineup.

  10. I fully believe in giving Winker full-time at bats. But I will say his defense is alarming. From what I can tell, he is one of two people in baseball history to have an obp of above .360 AND a negative bRef WAR (min 100 games). He’s been that bad in the field this year.

  11. I think his fielding has gotten better to. But being in and out of the line up doesn’t help. They move him from right to left, they move Schebler from right to center, why don’t they try Duvall in right for a change.

  12. Play him. Give him 500 hundred at bats this season and then make some kind of judgement.

    We are in last place, yet persist in playing Adam Duvall who is batting less than 0.190; he’s on the Interstate and has been all year.

    And play Brendan Dixon too. They ‘re going to screw him up by just sitting.

    Dixon in Left, Schebler in Center, Winker in Right. keep them out there for three weeks and see what happens. It can’t get much worse.

    NOOOOOOOOOO! We must play Billy! We must play Duvall!

    For a last place team, and by a lot, this all seems tedious in the extreme.

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About Matthew Habel

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Matt ironically became a diehard Reds fan while living in Pittsburgh and experiencing the 2013 Wild Card game. He is currently living in the land without baseball, Portland, OR, where you can find him exploring the great outdoors whenever he is not watching the Reds.

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