“Left” gets a bad rap. I’m not sure why that is, but it is. Left is defined as: relating to a person or group favoring liberal, socialist, or radical views. Why they gotta go there and make it so dramatic. Radical? Really? Type in the word right and what comes up? Morally good. True. Fact. Acceptable. Hmmm. How about Tinder? You swipe right if you’re interested in someone and left if you’re not. Granted, a big percentage of car accidents occur when making a left turn in an intersection, but on the other hand, NASCAR races, in which cars approach speeds of 200 mph, only turn left. Which brings me to Jesse Winker of the Cincinnati Reds, who was dropped in 6.7% of ESPN leagues over the past week. Since left is the outcast, and Winker bats from the left side of the plate, do we swipe left and follow the crowd?
I get why people are dropping Winker, as he will often sit against left-handed pitching. That’s fair. In 31 plate appearances against LHP this season, Winker has a slash of .179/.258/.179 with a .000 ISO. In his career (128 plate appearances), the slash is .182/.291/.264 with a .082 ISO. He’s not going to get many plate appearances against them. I think we can take that to the bank. Here’s the thing, though. In the NL Central, I count only four left-handed starters that he would have to face: Steven Brault, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Jose Quintana. One of my main reasons for fading Joc Pederson was because the NL West has six. I’m a stupid, stupid man.
Even though Pederson sits against lefties, he absolutely mashes righties, to the tune of .280/.401/.704 with a .424 ISO! Winker isn’t quite the masher as Pederson, but he’s still putting up a more than respectable .257/.333/.521 with a .264 ISO. In addition, Great American Ballpark, where Winker plays his home games, is one of the best for left-handed power. And it hasn’t transformed into the Great American Smallpark yet, as…..Summer is Coming.
The macro picture looks promising. Let’s dig into the micro numbers to see if we get those same warm and fuzzy feeling.
The strikeout rate is a tick high at 17.6%. Last season, that number was at 13.8%, but the projection systems have him down for a 16% rate going forward. His career rate is 15.7%, so although high, it’s not too concerning. The walk rate is way down, though, at 8.6%. Last season, he was walking at a 14.7% clip and his career average is 12.2%. Winker is swinging at more pitches this season. 45.6% compared to 40.8% last season and he’s chasing 4.3% more pitches outside the strike zone.
Is he selling out for power? The ISO is up at .220. Last season, that number was at .132, but he’s remained consistent with his approach, pulling the ball only 37% of the time, and the launch angle has actually decreased from 13.2 to 7.6.
Looking at the pitch type data, it looks like pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs and more changeups to Winker this season. In addition, when utilizing the fastball, pitchers are attacking him differently. Last season, they were getting him with the up-and-in fastball. This season, they are getting him with the high-and-away fastball. The changeup has been mostly down-and-in and down-and-away, but there have a few high-and-away ones that have gotten Winker to whiff.
We all know that baseball is a game of adjustments. Pitchers have made one. Now it’s time for Winker to adjust to the adjustment. I do feel comfortable that he will do what needs to be done. He’s too good of a hitter and has shown throughout his professional career that he has good command of the strike zone. In addition, he currently has a .248 BABIP which is suppressing his batting average. Once he makes the proper tweaks and the luck normalizes, that average should tick up to the .270 range. Don’t forget about the weather heating up soon as well.