Plodding, ponderous, plain bad — all words used to describe Jesse Winker’s defense this season before his campaign ended with shoulder surgery. In particular when I wrote two weeks ago that Winker was the third-most valuable trade asset the Reds have, you all were quick to point out in the comments that Winker cannot possibly be ranked that high because good lord the man just can’t play defense.
I want to posit a different interpretation: Jesse Winker’s defense frankly doesn’t matter.
Before his injury, the rookie had a 128 wRC+ over 334 plate appearances, walked more than he struck out, and and about a quarter of his hits were for extra bases. Were Winker to have continued that 128 mark across the rest of the 2018 season, he would have the 17th highest wRC+ of all Major League outfielders, better than Lorenzo Cain, Gregory Polanco, George Springer, Odubel Herrera, and Nomar Mazara.
Yes, that’s a big “if” but consider this: In the four Minor League seasons where Winker logged more than the 330 PAs he had in 2018, Winker finished with wRC+s of 138 (A, 486 PA), 137 (AA, 526), 128 (AAA, 448), and 127 (AAA, 347). Winker is more likely than not a 128 wRC+ hitter is what I’m saying, which means he’s dang good at the plate.
So 200 words in, here are our givens for Jesse Winker:
- Bad at defense (Fangraphs has him at -11.4 Def rating for 2018, roughly worth -1.0 fWAR)
- Good at hitting (28% better than average in fact)
What we need to determine then is the threshold for how good at hitting does a player have to be to render their defensive incompetence irrelevant.
Some pertinent though not at illuminative examples:
— J.D. Martinez, the third most valuable outfielder in MLB according to fWAR, has a worse Def rating at -12.1 than Winker does. Some immediate flaws with using Martinez as comparison are A) he’s primarily used as a DH because his defense is horrid and B) he’s so much better at hitting than Winker that it’s laughable. Martinez has a 181 wRC+, which in a delicious twist of fate is the same distance to Winker as Winker is to our old friend Adam Duvall. If only the Reds had invented human-merging technology, they could have their own J.D. Martinez!*
(*The ethics here are, uh, murky.)
— Rhys Hoskins, owner of a 134 wRC+, carries -13.1 Def rating, which should make a nice point of comparison except that Hoskins is also an out-of-position first baseman. The Phillies have made it abundantly clear that they don’t care about his defense because they find his bat to be more valuable.
— Bryce Harper (!!) has the same -11.4 Def rating that Winker does and a wRC+ only a tick higher at 133. Would any of you claim that Harper is a less valuable commodity because his defense sucks? No! Bryce Harper is Bryce Harper and would’ve been the most valuable chip available at the Trade Deadline should Washington have wanted to move him. The problem with Harper, and why I call his example not that illustrative, is that Harper has had a down year at the plate after posting a 156 wRC+ last year and a 197 wRC+ in 2015. (2016 was also a down year for him with a 112 wRC+, but he was rumored to have played through injury that season.)
Harper, like Martinez, represents an offensive asset that no one will question, regardless of defensive inability. What we need instead as a reference are NL outfielders who post negative Def ratings. Luckily, there are quite a few of those.
Of the 48 National League outfielders with more than 300 PAs this season, 31 have posted a negative Def rating. Jesse Winker ranks third worst of the 31, tied with the aforementioned Harper and above the Marlins’ Derek Dietrich and Hoskins. However, Winker ranks ninth-best in that defensively-deficient group for wRC+.
Limiting the group only to those with a wRC+ of 114 — 145 and a negative Def rating leaves us with a selection comprised of these fellows:
To be noted, Charlie Blackmon and Ian Happ fall below the cut and Juan Soto is just above it. Bryce Harper was excluded for the reasons mentioned above. Cody Bellinger and Rhys Hoskins are offset because both a natural first baseman.
Despite being the worst defensive outfielder, Jesse Winker falls squarely in the middle of offensive production. The Reds’ outfielder clearly has the least power of the group but makes up for it with the most prolific on-base skills.
Yasiel Puig makes the most intriguing point of comparison, with a comparable Def rating and 13 points less of wRC+. But none of this gets us any closer to a ratio of wRC+ to Def.
Knowing that 100 is average for wRC+, let’s set each player’s Def rating on a comparable 100-point adjusted scale. Of the 48 total NL outfielders, the lowest Def is -13.1 and the highest 11.2. Assuming a 0.0 Def sits equivalent to 100 with each 10 points of Def worth 50 points on an adjusted scale in either direction, then Lorenzo Cain, 11.2 Def, would have a 156 Def+. Our own Jesse Winker would have a 43 Def+.
As for a ratio, well this is going to venture into the territory known as “Wes making it up as he goes along.” For the sake of simplicity, I will say that an outfielder’s contributions at the plate are three times as valuable as their contributions in the field. An everyday outfielder will likely get more plate appearances than fielding opportunities, and if Dilson Herrera can play the outfield, then even the most routine opportunities aren’t too much of a worry.
Taking Winker’s 28 points above average, multiplying it by three gives us 84. Subtract the 57 points below average he is on defense, and voila: Jesse Winker’s offense compensates for his defense by an excess of 27 points.
If you want to make the argument that offense is only twice as valuable as defense, then Winker’s offense fails to overcome the deficit of his defense by one point. Either way, Yasiel Puig (our most accurate point of comparison) fails to overcome his defensive deficit with both multipliers, with a -0.5 mark (3x) and -15.5 (2x).
Winker’s defense does knock down his value quite a bit, but his hit tool ultimately renders that moot. Add in defensive superstar Billy Hamilton playing beside him and worries about Winker’s defense start to seem irrelevant. The Reds have a lot to worry about going into 2019, but Jesse Winker’s defense shouldn’t be near the top of the list. It doesn’t matter all that much after all.
BIG MOOD pic.twitter.com/Zi3Nppo0zY
— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) May 11, 2018