Is Jesse Winker The Real Deal?
The Reds fell to the Pirates on Tuesday night by a score of 7-2, dropping them to a 16-17 overall record on the season. While there wasn’t much to be happy with in the game, left fielder Jesse Winker continued his torrid 2021 season by homering and scorching an RBI double to drive in Cincinnati’s only two runs.
Through the first 33 games, Winker and right fielder Nick Castellanos lead the Reds in most major offensive categories. And while it’s not a surprise for Castellanos, Winker’s campaign is taking a lot more people by surprise.
Today, we’re looking at Winker’s 2021 season, how they compare to his previous years, and whether this is a flash in the pan or a true breakout performance.
To understand more about the longevity of Winker’s incredible start, one needs to know about his career numbers from his four previous years. A former supplemental first-round pick in 2012, Winker made his debut on April 14, 2017, at the age of 23. During his rookie year, he showed plenty of positive signs at the plate, slashing .298/.375/.529 in 137 plate appearances.
In 2018, Winker appeared in over half of Cincinnati’s games and received 334 plate appearances, and yet again showed some big potential. He hit .299 with a .405 OBP, finishing with more walks (49) than strikeouts (46). However, one critique may have been the stagnation in power, where he finished with seven home runs, the same as his first season.
2019 was when Jesse spent the most time on the field, appearing in 113 games and coming close to 400 plate appearances. But despite setting a career-high mark with 16 homers, everything else declined. His batting average was down to .269, and his OPS sat at .830, 74 points lower than his rookie year, while he drove in fewer runs and had more strikeouts.
Finally, in 2020, he played in 54 of Cincinnati’s 60 games, rebounding from a disappointing 2019 and setting the stage for 2021. Starting nearly every game for one of the worst offenses in baseball, Winker counter-acted his career-low .255 average with a .388 OBP and .544 slugging percentage, the latter being a career-best. The veteran outfielder hit 12 home runs in just 149 at-bats as well, four off of the previous year despite around 200 fewer at-bats.
Winker this season
While it’s still early on, Winker looks to set highs across the board. Entering Wednesday, the 27-year old led the National League with a .374 batting average, 51 points higher than National shortstop Trea Turner. He is already at seven home runs in 107 at-bats, tying his total from 2018 when he came to the plate well over 300 times, and is four away from matching last season’s RBI total of 23.
But Winker is not only putting up great numbers for his career; they are numbers near the top of the entire league. Not only is he second in all of baseball in batting average, but his .682 slugging percentage leads Major League Baseball. Coupled with his high OBP of .432, only the great Mike Trout has a higher OPS (1.150) than Winker (1.114), while Winker also has more hits, runs, doubles, RBI, and total bases than Trout with the exact same number of at-bats.
As mentioned earlier, only Castellanos can really compare to Winker as far as who is having the best season for the Reds. Castellanos is tied with Winker with 24 runs, has three more RBI with 22, one more total base with 74, and two more homers with nine. However, Winker has 15 fewer at-bats than his teammate and still beats him in other counting stats like hits, doubles, and walks.
So is Winker’s start sustainable?
Being realistic, it is HIGHLY improbable that Winker finishes the year with a batting average in the high .300’s. But after two seasons close to .300, it’s not out of the question that he can be in the batting champ discussion.
But beyond average, Winker’s past numbers compared to this year’s stats prove a couple of things. For one, he has also had a good approach at the plate and the ability to get on base, failing to finish with lower than a .357 OBP. Second, his OPS+, which is adjusted for a player’s ballpark, is at 128 for his career, well higher than the 100 that is for league-average players, showing that it isn’t Great American Ballpark that’s responsible for his success.
Looking further into more advanced stats, his hard-hit rate sits at 52.9 percent, 17th in all of baseball and ahead of sluggers like Rafael Devers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Freddie Freeman. He’s also in the top-30 in average exit velocity, tied with the likes of Bryce Harper and J.D Martinez at 92 percent.
So overall, while it’s unlikely Winker will keep up this particular pace for a full year, his spot as one of the top hitters in the National League might be legitimate. With his career numbers supporting his offensive abilities and an ability to generate hard contact better than the majority of the league, not to mention his age of 27 that is generally when these type of breakouts happen, I believe Winker is more than legitimate and that this is a sign of things to come for him and the Reds.
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