Cincinnati Reds: Without DH, Jesse Winker’s defense will be tested

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 18: Jesse Winker #33 of the Cincinnati Reds can't make the catch. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 18: Jesse Winker #33 of the Cincinnati Reds can't make the catch. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

With the universal designated hitter off the books for the 2021 season, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jesse Winker will have his defense tested. Despite what many fans may think, Winker’s defense took a giant step forward last season, albeit in limited opportunities.

With CBS Sports reporting that the universal DH will not be part of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, David Bell will have to be more creative with his outfield alignment for the upcoming season. Jesse Winker, who’s often been criticized for this lack of defense, made strides last season while playing left field.

Reds outfielder Jesse Winker’s defense was much improved last season.

According to FanGraphs, Jesse Winker improved in almost every defensive category lsat season while playing left field for the Cincinnati Reds. While his opportunities were limited to less than 95 innings in the outfield, Winker put up better than average defensive statistics.

Of his 94.2 innings in the outfield, Winker spent 88.2 of them in left field. Winker posted 1 defensive run saved (DRS) in 2020 after his 2019 season saw the 27-year-old post -4 DRS. Winker’s UZR/150 went from -3.5 in 2019 to 14.2 last season. Winker’s Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) also saw a bump from -1.1 to 0.8.

But what do all these numbers mean? In short, after proving to be a below-average defender for the majority of his professional career, last year’s stats suggest that Winker saw improvement in his defense during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Can Jesse Winker be an above-average fielder for the Reds in 2021?

The question as the team prepares to enter spring training is whether or not Jesse Winker’s defense will be good enough to make him the team’s everyday leftest fielder. With Shogo Akiyama finishing among theNational League’s top defensive left fielders in the  last season, Winker has his work cut out for him.

With both Winker and Akiyama being left-handed batters, it seems odd to think that David Bell would platoon his two left fielders, as switching one for the other is not likely to yield a better matchup.

However, if Winker’s defense is actually improved enough to make the left-handed slugger a viable option as the everyday left fielder, Akiyama could be platooned with Nick Senzel in center field. Senzel has struggled to stay healthy during his first two years in the big leagues, so rotating Akiyama with Senzel might be the more prudent move.

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Jesse Winker’s bat is what will keep him in the major leagues for quite some time. But, the former first-rounder can break into the everyday lineup if his defense is up to snuff this coming season. Spring training might give us some insight into what Winker’s role will be in 2021.