by Spenser Brown

Jesse Winker is also destroying left-handed pitching

While the Reds have been mostly inept at the plate throughout their first 28 games of 2020, one encouraging development has been Jesse Winker.

Despite a slow start that saw him hit .118/.318/.118 in July, Winker has turned in an outstanding August, producing .388/.487/.821 through yesterday’s games in Milwaukee. This has propelled him to the top of the MLB leaderboard in batting average (4th), power (8th) and run creation (1st). Winker didn’t have an extra-base hit in July, but his isolated power (ISO) in August is .433, which is higher than the best ISO in MLB overall. 

Winker is making the hardest contact of his career, which shows up in his underlying stats: 

Hard Hit % Barrel % Exit Velocity xwOBA xSLG
2017 32.7% 7.1% 88 mph .361 .462
2018 42.2% 6.3% 90.9 mph .372 .461
2019 41.1% 4.3% 89.1 mph .357 .453
2020 49.2% 16.4% 93.1 mph .455 .654

Winker only has 55 batted ball events this season, so the sample size is small. Another aspect where he has excelled is against the shift, something Reds statistician Joel Luckhaupt showed to be tough for left handed hitters. From 2000-2010, left-handed batters like Winker hit .427 on pulled balls. In 2020, left-handed batters are hitting just .305.

While the majority of left handed hitters have struggled with the shift, it hasn’t been a problem for Winker. Although he faces the shift 75.3% of the time, Winker actually has a higher wOBA against the shift (.427), than against a traditionally aligned defense (.388). It is more impressive when you consider he’s pulling the ball at the highest rate of his career (41%).

Overall, Winker has turned in the best streak of his career in 2020. His biggest revelation, however, has been against left handed pitching.

Steve Mancuso noted at the beginning of the season that Winker has struggled against Major League left-handed pitching. His highest xwOBA in a season against left-handed pitchers was .300. Overall against RHP in that time his xwOBA was .372. Across five minor league levels (2012-2017), Winker was solid, albeit unspectacular against left-handed pitching.

2012 66 .333 .429 .485 .913
2013 91 .264 .368 .374 .742
2014 20 .250 .360 .450 .810
2015 95 .211 .328 .326 .654
2016 104 .260 .386 .346 .732
2017 75 .280 .385 .360 .745

After making it to the majors, Winker struggled immensely against left-handers. David Bell usually employs platoons, and Winker’s .306/.398/.517 line against right handed pitching made him an easy inclusion in the lineup. Bell usually sat Winker against left handed pitchers due to his lackluster track record, but injuries and COVID-19 forced him into the lineup this season. Winker has not disappointed against lefties: 

2017 25 .120 .154 .200 .354
2018 57 .211 .357 .333 .690
2019 43 .163 .280 .163 .443
2020 19 .350 .458 .750 1.208

In 2019, Winker did not produce a single extra-base hit against left-handed pitchers. In 2020, Winker has already had two doubles and two home runs, counting his opposite field blast last night. His 66.7% hard contact rate shows he isn’t just getting lucky either. His home run off Kris Bubic earlier this month is evidence:

He faced one lefty, Alex Claudio, in yesterday’s doubleheader in Milwaukee and this was the result.

It has been difficult to pinpoint bright spots in the Reds offense so far in 2020. Winker’s production against left-handed pitching is key for the remainder of this season and for his success moving forward. The Reds have a logjam in their outfield. If Jesse Winker can sustain his solid contact against left handers, he will guarantee himself a spot in the lineup.

Spenser Brown is a lifelong Reds fan born and raised in Cincinnati. He spent many days as a kid at Great American Ball Park with his parents and sister sitting in Section 119, where his Grandfather was the usher. He is a graduate of Ohio University and currently resides in Columbus, but returns to Cincinnati to attend games throughout the summer. You can follow him on Twitter at @spenserbrown_, where he is most commonly tweeting about the Reds or Ohio State Football.