Reds manager David Bell took Jesse Winker out of the game on Tuesday evening with the bases loaded and a left-handed pitcher on the mound. The Reds were up one run in the 6th inning at the time. It was not the first time that Bell has pulled Winker against a left-handed reliever, but it was one of the biggest spots of the season that he did so.

There is a lot of debate about if Winker should or should not get playing time against lefties. It is fairly easy to look up Winker’s career OPS vs LHP of .566. The first thought when you see that number is probably “small sample size.” Winker has 105 career plate appearances against lefties, so while that is far from enough to make any definitive long-term decisions, that is quite a few unsuccessful attempts.

David Bell and the Reds front office are assuredly looking further than just Winker’s first 105 plate appearances against lefties in the big leagues. Winker has failed to hit against lefties at any major level. Here are his minor league numbers vs LHP:

2018 – .690 OPS
2017 – .653 OPS
2016 – .756 OPS
2015 – .654 OPS

Those are near Billy Hamilton level numbers. There is simply no denying that at this point in his career, Winker is not a good hitter vs lefties. When you combine that with his career -19 defensive runs saved, it makes it all the more wise to pull Winker late in a game for someone like Phillip Ervin against a lefty.

The next part of the debate is the development. Does benching Winker vs LHP now mean that he will never learn to hit them? The brutal truth is that Winker will probably never be good enough against lefties.

I looked up numbers for LHB vs LHP since 2000. There are 76 players that had 1,000+ plate appearances. 47 of those batters were below average hitters in those situations.

Some of the players on this list that were really bad are surprising: Jay Bruce (89), Chris Davis (87), Ryan Howard (85), Jason Heyward (82) and Eric Hosmer (81). Davis, Heyward and Hosmer are being compensated very well also.

It should also come as no surprise that the best LHB vs LHP over that span is Joey Votto, who has a remarkable 142 wRC+. The next best is Jason Giambi all the way down at 125. It would not be wise to compare Winker to Votto as a reason for expecting him to become a good hitter against lefties. Votto is a special breed.

The good news for Jesse Winker is that he absolutely destroys right-handed pitchers. Winker has a very good .901 career OPS vs RHP. This post shouldn’t be an indictment of Winker’s shortcomings, but rather that there are probably dozens of LHB throughout the MLB that shouldn’t play regularly vs LHP. It would probably be in the Reds best short and long term interest to play Winker sporadically against lefties and in low leverage situations. If Winker ends up drastically improving and beating the odds, that would be terrific, but it should not be expected.

 

All stats include games played through April 23, 2019.

24 Responses

  1. RojoBenjy

    Nice analysis, Nick. Appreciate the work.

    Could you do something similar to look at the decision to PH Schebler for Lorenzen in the game on 4/24? If I saw some hard data on that it would help.

    Thanks.

  2. Big Ed

    I slightly favored letting Winker hit there, for development reasons, but understood the arguments against it, particularly the defensive argument.

    Votto had a OPS against LH in his rookie year of .862; didn’t know where to look for his MiLB splits. But note that even Votto has slipped against LH pitchers. His OPS last year v. LH was .758, and .556 this year over a very small sample.

    The development issue is that by limiting Winker’s chances now against LH, then it is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he never bats against LHs (and he has 8 ABs so far this year), then it is a certainty that he will never get better. At his age, I think he deserves more chances.

    I offer Paul O’Neill. He couldn’t hit lefties in Cincinnati. His OPS v. LH in Cincinnati over his last 2 years (1991 and 1992) were .562 and .574. He didn’t do much better in his first 2 years with the Yankees, posting .597 and .571. In 1995, though, he turned it around at age 32, with an OPS of .820 v. LH, and followed the next 2 years at .739 and .766. So, the skill can be developed. (Maybe hitting Winker now against LH will turn him into a good player at age 32 for the Cubs or Yankees??)

    The other variable is the 4-man bench. If Winker is replaced in the 6th, there is a chance that in the 8th or 9th, the Reds would prefer a LH hitter, but he is lost.

    And what your work also highlights is how nice it would be for the Reds to have a LH starting pitcher.

    • Nick Kirby

      I don’t believe they have splits for when Votto was in the minors, unfortunately.

      • Doug Gray

        We’ve got them from 2005-2007.

        vsLefties:
        .196/.275/.315
        .262/.357/.399
        .242/.354/.325

        vsRighties:
        .283/.353/.474
        .351/.438/.631
        .311/.390/.527

    • ohiojimw

      The guy who batted for Winker in that situation, Phil Ervin, was also a first round draft choice (picked ~20 picks sooner than Winker a year earlier). He had a strong final 2 months of 2018 as an everyday MLB player.

      To me this also plays in the mix because depending how long Kemp is out and what they do with their bench, Ervin as a 4th OF is a viable CF backup (to Senzel) at the least. All around he is probably a better fielder and base runner than any OF they have now aside from Puig and eventually Senzel.

      So the development argument both at personal and team level also holds true where Ervin is involved. And in this specific situation, he drew a tough walk to bring across a run.

    • David Ward

      Nick deftly refuted the argument against Winker hitting against lefties, as he has -19 defensive runs saved. As a result, if you don’t except the overwhelming evidence of his ineptitude against LHs, then any ABs that he receives should only come in early game, low leverage situations!

  3. Old-school

    Look no further than Scooter Gennett.

    2013-15 :
    14-119 0 HR .119 BA against lefties.

    2016-18:
    107-425 11 HR .251 BA

    In 2018 alone, Gennett had an OPS of .774 with a wRC+ 107. He became an above avg hitter against lefties with repetitions.

    Winker has 105 career plate appearances against lefties.

  4. Jeff Gangloff

    “It would probably be in the Reds best short and long term interest to play Winker sporadically against lefties and in low leverage situations. ”

    I like this.

  5. jreis

    thank you Nick for the analysis.

    these are my observations so far in this young reds 2019 season’
    1. jessie Winker isn’t a good outfielder
    2. Eugenio Suarez days at 3rd base are numbered
    3. we will in the fairly near future have a lot of duplicity at he positions of second base and third base with Scooter, Peraza, Senzel, India
    4.Vottos days as an everyday starter are coming to an end sooner rather than later I fear.

    My point is I would like to see Both Winker and SUAREZ get some playing time at first base this year. I could see a potential lefty/righty platoon situation with them at first down the line. this frees up infield and outfield space for our younger players who by all accounts are better defenders.

    • Dr Dan

      Why do you say Suarez’s days at 3B are numbered? He’s been plenty good enough there after the first month of 2016.

    • Dick

      I disagree with much of this, especially #3 and #4. What are the chances of Scooter being around after this year? Senzel is likely to stay in the outfield. India is a long way from proof he can play in the majors. And mostly, Votto is likely to be effective till at least 40, given his eye at the plate, his discipline, and his value for OBP over HR.

  6. Doug Gray

    I’ll say that I believe Winker will come around against lefties. The reasoning is simple: He see’s the ball well, even if he hasn’t always hit the ball well against them. Most lefties don’t hit lefties because they strikeout against them at high rates. That’s not Winker.

    Looking at his minor league splits, you only cited the OPS. In 2015 he hit .211/.328/.326 against them. Yeah, that isn’t good. But it came with 16 walks and 23 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances. He had a bad BABIP and not much power (in a ballpark that kills power to RF).

    The next year he moved up to Triple-A and hit .264/.383/.373 with 19 walks and 22 strikeouts in 133 plate appearances against lefties. BABIP was normal and he performed solidly, but the power wasn’t there.

    In 2017 he hit .280/.385/.360 against lefties in Triple-A with 11 walks and 15 strikeouts. In the Majors that season it was .120/.154/.200 with a .143 BABIP.

    No clue if he’ll be able to tap into the power against lefties or not. But I’ve got faith that he’ll get on base against them given enough time to actually get beyond the small sample size in the Majors he’s shown thus far. Billy Hamilton he is not.

    • Pete

      Not with a bat….or a glove and shoes. Winkler is going to need to hit a ton to justify a full-time gig. I think he will provide this but he is as one dimensional as it gets.

    • Scott C

      Doug, I agree with you. I believe that if Winker is given an opportunity he will hit left handers. In most cases, I would much rather have Winker batting in a high leverage situation against a LHP than having a RHH batting in that situation that has a high K rate.

  7. Shchi Cossack

    The Reds usage of Jesse Winker vs LHP…that topic has multiple facets.

    There is no realistic debate that Winker has a platoon split, especially when factoring hitting and power, but that represents only 1 facet. The capabilities of the player replacing Winker are also important facets along with the situations when Winker is replaced.

    If someone argues that Winker should be platooned, I would be inclined to agree, especially if Winker’s platoon partner has an equally significant platoon split. A platoon represents playing time based on the opponent’s starting pitcher and the goal is to knock the starting pitcher out of the game and establish a lead going into the later innings when the bullpens control the game. Hitting and power are important factors in a platoon arrangement.

    The problem is that the situation being discussed, or initiating the discussion, was not a platoon arrangement. The situation was not the beginning of a game tied at 0-0. The situation driving this discussion was the 6th inning of a game with 1 out, the bases loaded and the Reds leading by 6-4. The situation also included a short bench, created by DB so he could over-manage the bullpen to repeatedly match up individual batters multiple times during virtually every game. The situation also involved an Atlanta bullpen with a problem in walking opposing hitters. the situation also involved specifically replacing Winker with Ervin.

    To maximize the benefit in that situation, the first priority should be keeping pressure on the pitcher through superior plate discipline. Both Winker and Ervin have limited MLB experience, but both have 105 career PA against LHP, with Winker having 71 PA and Ervin having 83 PA against LHP in 2018. Winker’s career OBP against LHP is .288 while Ervin’s career OBP against LHP is .343. That represents just a 5.5% difference in a successful outcome. Probably a more valid comparison for an apples to apples evaluation might be their 2018 results. Winker had a .357 OBP and Erving had a .301 OBP against LHP in 2018. That represents just a 5.5% difference in a successful outcome, but the difference favors Winker over Ervin.

    Removing Winker in the 6th inning, removed him for the rest of the game and also utilized the best available pinch hitter from a very limited bench. Ervin walked to force in a run, but he also struck out in the 8th inning with no outs and runners on 1st and 2nd after Votto and Suarez had both walked leading off the inning. Winker would have hit in the 8th inning if he hadn’t been removed from the game.

  8. TR

    With time, if the Reds keep him around, Winker’s position will be first base. And given the chance, Winker will eventually hit lefthanded pitching adequately.

    • ohiojimw

      1B as things stand now, very possibly a DH once that arrives in the NL; and, it is a matter of when, not if.
      And I agree he will hit at least enough vs LH pitching.

    • BK

      I have seen this suggestion multiple times. Has anyone seen him take ground balls in the infield? I don’t think he has any professional experience at 1B.

  9. doofus

    Let Winker hit against LH pitching. It’s not like this team is in a position where it needs to get the best out of every plate appearance. Let the kid face lefthanders.

    I am close to proclaiming that Bell is a micromanager.

    • greenmtred

      Isn’t micromanaging what the game is about these days? The Reds have never before had manager who embraces analytics. The removal of starting pitchers before their third time through the lineup is another example of micromanaging, and has gotten attention here, some of it negative, but mightn’t it be part of the reason for the rotation’s effectiveness?

  10. GR8PNT

    It will be interesting to see how Winker fits in when Senzel arrives. I see more platooning in the future if Kemp remains in the picture. What happens to Schebler? With the minor league outfielders progressing it creates an even more complicated picture. I feel the same about the outfield as I did the pitching. There is a balance between now and development for the future that must be addressed. I believe the Reds organization failed Romano and pitchers like him. I don’t necessarily believe he was rushed but did not receive the developmental instruction to prepare him for MLB. I don’t want to see the same thing happen in the outfield. While the attention has been focused on Trammel and Siri, what about O’Grady?

  11. Still a Red

    Winker is too good a hitter to sit him out against left handed pitchers on a regular basis..and he will improve. That said, there may be occasions late in the game where pinch-hitting for him against LHP is warranted, both offensively and defensively. I agree that doing it too early leaves him unavailable later in the game.

    He looked a little pissed when he was taken out in that situation, untypical of him. I was concerned. But I was heartened to see him smiling and congratulating Ervin for his walk.