A Nod’s As Good As a Winker

Dylan Burris covers all of Friday's most interesting hitters.

We’re a solid third of the way into the season, and the league leader in wRC+ is, say it with me: Jesse Winker at 218. Wait, what?

Winker is absolutely smashing the ball now. He’s boasting a Hard Hit % of 47.2 (74th percentile), a Sweet Spot % a good eight ticks above his usual (and league average), and a Barrel % nearly double his career average. It all translates into a monster .484 OBP and .712 SLG, buoyed by a two-homer performance last night (2-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB).

There have always been high hopes for Winker, who was a heralded prospect since the Reds drafted him in 2012. Unfortunately, his career has been marred by injuries and he hasn’t been able to put together a full season since he was called up in 2017. When he’s been active, though, he’s contributed, with a great eye for contact (.290 career average) and solid plate discipline (15.7% career K rate compared to a 12.0% career BB rate). It’s a tool every manager loves to have in their lineup.

Through the first 20 games of 2020, he’s added something else: power. He’s always been able to put bat to ball but this season he’s making more solid contact and hitting it much harder than before. He’s got one of those beautiful Statcast pages filled with red, led by a 90th+ percentile xBA and xWOBA. He’s not one of those launch angle guys, so it’s not likely these are going to turn into a ton of home runs, but with a line drive rate 10+ points above MLB average, it turns into a lot of solid hits with potential for extra bases and the odd long ball sprinkled in. I don’t expect his power numbers to remain too high above his career norms, but adding that hard hit rate and solid contact to an already stellar eye at the plate in a year with his best chance yet at putting together a full season? I think we could get a glimpse of just what Winker is capable of.

If nothing else, a typical season for Winker in that lovely small Great American Ball Park surrounded by one of the deadliest Reds lineup we’ve seen in a while would yield great counting stats and a solid average. But if he keeps making strong contact like this, watch out.

Let’s see how every other hitter did Friday:

Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR) – 3-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI. It was a monster night for the Toronto outfielder, smashing two home runs to finish with four RBI as the Blue Jays pummeled the Rays. The performance bumps him up to a .402 wOBA on the year, including a .677 SLG—he’s now got seven long balls on the year. The longtime Statcast darling (98th percentile Hard Hit % and 86th percentile Barrel % in 2020) now has some real protection batting in the heart of an ascendant Toronto lineup and it could help him finally put everything together. However, his K% isn’t far below his career norms (nearly 30%, yikes) and he’s only walked twice all season, so without an improvement in plate discipline he may struggle to get there.

Cody Bellinger (OF, LAD) – 2-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI. Another two-homer performance came in the form of Cody Bellinger, who finished the night with four RBI. With 20 games under his belt (a full third of the regular season), Bellinger is still slashing a woeful .181/.236/.349, but we all know what he’s capable of and in such a dangerous lineup he could flip the switch at any moment. By doubling his homer count on the year, maybe last night was the spark the 2019 NL MVP needed to get going.

Franmil Reyes (DH, CLE) – 2-4, HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, BB. Through August 5th, Reyes was slashing a rough .163/.182/.256 through 44 PAs. Since then, he’s been on fire, slashing .538/.586/.846 over the last seven games. A career .262 hitter, he’s turned his batting average around to land over .300 but hasn’t quite yet found his trademark power stroke, with an ISO of just .174 through the first 19 games of 2020. However, now that he’s started seeing the ball well again, you have to think the power will follow soon.

Nick Solak (OF, TEX) – 3-4, HR, 2 2B, 2 R, RBI. Another slow starter, Solak was barely hitting above the Mendoza line just a week ago. In his last five games, however, he’s hit .500 with four 2B and a HR, bringing his season slash-line to a respectable .311/.382/.443. The 25-year-old has been able to limit his strikeouts so far through 2020, which if it can stick would be a huge boost to his game.

Stephen Piscotty (OF, OAK) – 2-4, HR, R, 4 RBI. Oakland came into the ninth inning down 7-2 and Piscotty got to play hero, smacking a grand slam to left that tied the game and forced extras (the Athletics would go on in to win in 10). When he’s gotten extended playing time, he’s been a solid contributor, and in a dangerous Athletics lineup, he could put up some unexpectedly impressive counting stats this season.

Yuli Gurriel (1B, HOU) – 2-4, HR, 3B, 2 R, RBI, BB. In a game that was over after the first inning, Gurriel smacked his fourth home run of the year and added on his first triple to finish with a pair of runs scored, reaching three times on the night. It’s shaping up to be yet another solid season for Gurriel, who is walking more than ever before to stay in line with his OBP and SLG from last season. While the Astros have struggled a bit as a whole, Gurriel is already at a comfortable 140 wRC+ and if he can keep walking he could take another step forward from last season.

Bo Bichette (POS, TOR) – 2-5, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. Teoscar wasn’t the only Blue Jay filling up the stat sheet. The star shortstop hit a three-run homer in the sixth to put Toronto in front for good. Through 13 games in 2020, the 22-year-old phenom has been as good as advertised, slashing .356/.387/.678 for a whopping 184 wRC+. He’s swiped four bags in addition to his five HRs on the year, and is already well on his way to being one of the premier threats in the league.

Evan Longoria (POS, SF) – 2-5, HR, R, 3 RBI. Longoria kicked off the scoring with a solo shot off Jesus Luzardo in the bottom of the first, but unfortunately wasn’t able to propel the Giants to victory despite adding on a two-run single in the fourth. The longtime Ray may be past his prime but he’s still capable of being a solid contributor especially hitting out of the three spot on the Giants. It hasn’t been a great start to 2020 for Longoria, but perhaps his second home run of the season will get him going.

Juan Soto (OF, WSH) – 2-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, SB. Unable to participate in the beginning of the season due to COVID, the 21-year-old has wasted no time getting back into the swing of things. He stole his first base of the season to add even more production to an already terrifying .412/.459/.941 slash line through 37 PAs. And this is without his usual 16%+ walk rate, which should keep his OBP high. There’s not much to say about Soto that you don’t already know—this guy is going to be one of the best players in the league for decades.

Brandon Lowe (2B, TB) – 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI. For a Rays team that hasn’t quite managed to win as much as they expected, Lowe has been one of the bright spots, smacking his sixth home run of the season to finish with three RBI on the night. Lowe, slashing .319/.388/.708 so far, is in the 90th percentile for Barrel % this season but is still struggling with strikeouts. As long as he keeps smashing with a .389 ISO, though, he can strike out as much as he wants.

(Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)

Dylan Burris

Dylan has been a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan since 2015. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he devotes most of his non-baseball attention to college basketball.

6 responses to “A Nod’s As Good As a Winker”

  1. T says:

    No Yordan?

    • Dylan Burris says:

      I’m always hesitant highlighting someone with just one hit, but he sure made it count didn’t he? It’s great seeing him back in action and picking up right where he left off, he’ll be one to watch closely over the next week or two to see how much rust he needs to knock off. That Astros lineup has been missing his bat for sure.

      • theKraken says:

        Good decision to not include a 1 hit performance IMO. Do you think for one second that there will not be enough Yordan coverage lol?

  2. larry womack says:

    Looking to pickup a solid bat for the weekend: I’m looking at dropping Andrus for:

    Grossman hitting over .438 for past seven days with 2 hr’s and 2 sb’s. Going against Gausman and Webb
    Wong with the amount of double hitters
    D. Smith .333 and 3 hr’s over past seven but going up against Nola and Wheeler

    Leaning Grossman because of speed and facing two right handers over the weekend.

    Even with Andrus in Colo he’s been dropped to 8th in lineup and hitting .130 past 7 days.

    Thank you and have a nice weekend

    • theKraken says:

      I would go Andrus. Streaming mediocre hitters is a bad bet. I know Andrus has been bad but all it takes is one game to turn around those 7 day splits. Good luck with whatever you decide – you are gambling.

  3. theKraken says:

    I don’t think Franmil ever sees the ball well. He is a swing in case you hit it type of guy.

    I will take the under on Soto being one of the best players for decades. Hyperbole ends up looking silly if you stick around. Maybe just settle for having a great 2020? He absolutely does not qualify as one of the elite hitters of the 2010-20 era, so he is going to need to maintain a 15 year peak which will put him in the inner circle of the HOF. That would be cool but it is a ways off. That is the kind of thinking that gives us the gifts like Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera with giant contracts 5 years past their primes. Longevity is a skill of its own. I would actually speculate that everything has come so easy to Soto that he probably won’t have super longevity. He already seems pretty indifferent in the field which doesn’t bode well for work ethic. Who knows? There are guys like Manny Ramirez that have existed and they are really fun. I never expect a young player having success to grow. Why would they? What would their motivation be? We very much put them on a pedestal as early as possible and at that point you have it all figured out right…

    The Rays are not wining as much as expected? They have a winning record and lack elite talent or any semblance of chemistry. I don’t know how much more you could realistically hope for. Lowe is on fire though.

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