Cincinnati Reds: Confident Jesse Winker will lead the league in home runs

Cincinnati Reds left fielder Jesse Winker (33) enters the dugout after the second inning. Kansas City Royals At Cincinnati Reds Spring Training
Cincinnati Reds left fielder Jesse Winker (33) enters the dugout after the second inning. Kansas City Royals At Cincinnati Reds Spring Training

Jesse Winker often filled the role of designated hitter in baseball’s retooled 2020 season. With the National League returning to tradition, there will be no DH in 2021. Winker knows he has the stuff for a breakout year at the plate if he could win the starting job in left field for the Cincinnati Reds. The left-handed slugger has what it takes to lead the league in home runs this upcoming season.

Yes, the 27-year-old from Florida will lead the National League in home runs in 2021. Book it! That may be a bold prediction, but we’re talking about the best Reds slash line of 2020 and one of the league’s most frequent home run hitters, leaving the yard almost every 12 and-a-half at-bats last season.

Jesse Winker was the Reds best hitter in 2020.

Winker not only lead the team in every major batting statistic, he ranked in the league’s top 10 percent for average exit velocity (92.1 MPH) and hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant. Winker’s hard-hit rate is 49.5%, meaning half of Winker’s balls in play have an exit velocity of 95 MPH or more.

To put that into perspective, New York Yankees’ Luke Voit led all of baseball in home runs last season with 22. His average exit velocity in 2020 was 88.9 MPH and his hard-hit rate was only 40%.

Another statistic from 2020 that is particularly important to Jesse Winker, Alan Zinter and Great American Ball Park is line drive rate. Winker’s 29% line drive rate in 2020 is the highest it’s been in his career. Half of his 12 homers last season came via line drive rather than fly ball. And only four of his total homers were away from the hitter-friendly GABP.

Reds outfielder Jesse Winker will be looking for more opportunities.

As with many of these statistics, please imagine a full season of Jesse Winker starting at Great American Ball Park. It’s no question Cincinnati Reds hitting coach, Alan Zinter has thought of this.

Zinter wants a different approach to the offense in 2021– another huge key for Winker leading the league in home runs. For starters and to get it out the way… it can’t get any worse! Surely the Reds offense as a whole bounces back from their woeful ways of 2020. But Zinter isn’t relying on those probabilities alone.

This is where Winker’s line drive rate plays a significant role in the Reds’ offense. Zinter recently told Mark Sheldon at that last season’s Reds were “missing the variety of hits” and that they “[hit] into the air too much.”

Sheldon gives a great explanation on the great chase for launch angle we’ve seen in baseball in recent years, leading to the three true outcomes. Reds fans are familiar with those outcomes– striking out, walking, or home run. Zinter’s goal is to create more outcomes, thus expanding their room for error and, more importantly, extending innings.

Create more outcomes, create more baserunnes, create more at-bats. This approach of extending innings, if successful, will create more plate appearances. Baseball can get so overthought these days. Getting your best players more chances at the plate is a good formula for more runs.

Getting the most at-bats is what Jesse Winker is interested in. Winker doesn’t want to be platooned. He wants to be the starting left fielder for the Cincinnati Reds and get more plate appearances. While the Reds certainly have depth and options in the outfield, Winker’s numbers have consistently improved each of his first four years in the majors.

Reds slugger Jesse Winker proved he can hit left-handers.

And for the haters, Winker’s batting average and OPS against left-handed pitching in 2020 were the best on the team. The Reds only hit .200 against lefties last season. Winker averaged .265. This would lead one to believe, Winker doesn’t need to be platooned anymore, similar to his role in 2019. He’s ready to start full-time.

In 2019, Jesse Winker played 113 games, the most he’s ever played in one season. (Granted he only missed six games last year.) As Winker continues to improve at the plate (and the field for that matter), David Bell has to look to Winker as a team leader and as the starting left fielder.

For batting coach Alan Zinter, Winker perfectly fits the mold for their offensive approach in 2021 and could/should hit clean up in the lineup. For Bell, he has to let Winker start and finish games, getting one of his best players as many at-bats as he can, helping him to lead the league in home runs.

Jesse Winker also has one of the best nicknames that he wears on his back for Player’s Weekend: Bird. It’s time to let Bird take flight. Last year, the Reds finally got a Cy Young winner in Trevor Bauer. This season, it’s time the Reds get their first NL home run leader since George Foster wore the NL crown back-to-back years in the late 1970s.

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If the left-handed outfielder can have a full, healthy season as a starting outfielder, fit into the team’s new offensive approach, and continue increasing his numbers at the plate; then Jesse Winker will lead the National League in home runs.