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The Quest for an .800+ OPS Hitter Part Two - Jesse Winker


jakedood

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For part two of this series, I'm going to focus a little on Jesse Winker, particularly his injury history.

Historically, despite regular injuries throughout his carer, Jesse Winker has a career slash line of .270/.374/.463, with several healthier seasons comfortably above .900 OPS. He has struggled through shoulder dislocation, abdominal strains, intercostal issues, and knee issues.

To focus on his two most recent injuries, I've looked in a little more depth to see the return timelines.

Starting with the neck, Winker first suffered a neck strain in September 2019 and missed the last month of the season because of it, and the following year he came back with his first .900 OPS season (albeit in shortened 2020). It wouldn't have been as severe as the bulging disc he had surgery on, but perhaps an underlying weakness that caused the issue. In 2019, Brandon Nimmo had a bulging disc, although he healed naturally due to it not being ruptured. Nimmo never seemed to have any issues with the bat after that, regularly finishing the seasons with a .800+ OPS, even though at the time of the injury, he had batted .171/.312/.224 before going on the IL, showing the size of the short-term impact the injury can have on your swing. The neck injury likely doesn't take any real adjustment/recovery time when back in the batter's box.

Meniscus clear-out in the knee is a much simpler surgery than most associated with this area of the body. It's a repair of the cartilage between the femur and the joint to prevent friction which causes pain while moving. It is a minimally invasive surgery, very common in high-impact athletes (i.e., those running and moving on harder surfaces, less common on grass surfaces). It can often, several years later, require more serious surgery as the joint is more likely to be unstable; however, in the near future, it is a quick and relatively seamless recovery. Brandon Belt had the same surgery in 2015 and hit 275 with 17 home runs the following year, playing 156 games. It can be much harder to recover from as you get older, but many players, such as Jazz Chisholm and Luke Voit, have returned and recovered well at the plate.

The underlying issue with Winker is likely to be less about his injuries from last season and more about what injuries he'll be dealing with this season. He played through them last year for 136 games, and his previous high was 113 for the Reds. Suppose the Brewers get 120 games out of him with relatively minor health issues, and the DH hopefully removes some of the strain on his body in terms of the wear and tear of the knee and other joints or impact dives in the outfield. In that case, they could expect at a baseline an OPS of over .800 and potentially be hopeful of their first .900 OPS bat since 2019. 

His record at American Family Field is bonkers, with a 1.032 OPS in 32 games; he regularly demolishes sinker ballers (I remember he had a real fondness for Adrian Houser in one specific game). We'll see a little extra focus from him in his contract season to get that bag. And even if he doesn't hit with the power we're used to seeing from, his eye at the plate provides a reasonably high floor from which to project that he'll be comfortably better than Andrew McCutchen as DH, even on his worst day.

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