Jesse Winker Is Already Trying To Hit His Way Off the Nationals

Forced to settle for a minor league deal this winter, Jesse Winker is putting up eye-popping numbers for the Nationals so far in 2024.

Jesse Winker of the Washington Nationals rounds the bases on a two-run home run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: Jesse Winker #6 of the Washington Nationals rounds the bases on a two-run home run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

On-base percentage might be the single most important offensive statistic. Just look at the MLB leaders in OBP from recent years: Ronald Acuña Jr., Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, Juan Soto (again), Mike Trout, Mike Trout (again), Joey Votto, Mike Trout (again), Bryce Harper… you get the point.

Now, why don’t you take a minute to check who leads the National League in OBP in 2024. I’m serious, I’ll wait.


Jesse Winker of the Washington Nationals leads qualified NL hitters with a .458 OBP. The name just behind him? Mookie Betts.

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The only qualified hitter with a higher OBP this season is Juan Soto. And before his 0-for-4 showing on Friday, Winker led all of Major League Baseball — yes, even Soto — with a .485 OBP.

With the obvious disclaimer that it’s still April, that’s pretty impressive for a hitter who was little more than an afterthought this past winter. Winker was forced to settle for a minor league deal with the Nationals after his disappointing 2023 season. He hit .199 with a .567 OPS last year, while injuries limited him to just 61 games for the Brewers.

Winker reached base in just 40 games last season. This year, he has already reached safely in 15 out of 18 contests. I’d call that an improvement.

Even better, Winker seems to have rediscovered some of the power that deserted him in 2022 and ‘23. With two home runs and six doubles in 2024, he has already surpassed his totals from last season. In 61 games with Milwaukee, he managed just five doubles and a lone home run.

As a pleasant bonus, Winker has already stolen two bases. No one will ever confuse him for a speedster, but it’s nice to see him showing a little more aggression on the basepaths. From 2017-23, he stole just three bases on six attempts. With one more steal, he will have doubled his career total in 2024. How many other guys can say that in their age-30 season?

Now for a quick dose of reality: Winker isn’t going to keep this up. His 180 wRC+ is ludicrous, and his .419 BABIP is far beyond sustainable. He has had hot stretches like this before, most recently in June 2022. He walked in 19.5% of his plate appearances that month, putting up a .424 OBP and 166 wRC+. Over the rest of the season, he was barely a league-average hitter. Then came his disastrous 2023 campaign.

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I don’t bring that up to imply Winker is due for another dreadful slump. Rather, I just want to drill home the point that 18 games is a small, small sample size. There’s only so much we can learn about a player from his performance over 18 games.

Still, for what it’s worth, Winker is doing everything he needs to do to succeed. His underlying numbers don’t support his 1.010 OPS, but they’re not too shabby, either.

His hard-hit rate isn’t nearly as high as it was during his best seasons in 2020 and ‘21, but it is significantly higher than in 2022 or ‘23. He has also trimmed his whiff rate and strikeout rate from last season.

202049%25.1%28.9%.397 (94th percentile)
202147.1%15.5%20.1%.390 (93rd percentile)
202234.2%18.8%19.9%.345 (82nd percentile)
202331.9%25.9%25.1%.287 (10th percentile)
202441.9%17.6%21.3%.418 (95th percentile)
Stats as of 04/19, via Baseball Savant

Winker was an above-average hitter for the first six years of his career. He has always walked at a high rate, and when he has combined that with plus power, he has been a truly dangerous bat.

It’s fair to be hesitant about him following his mediocre 2022 and rotten 2023, but he is far from a lost cause. Perhaps the Winker from 2020-21 is gone, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable contributor with the stick.

He has certainly been valuable to the Nationals, who are starved for offense once again. A couple of Washington’s promising young hitters (CJ Abrams and Luis García Jr.) are off to strong starts, but of the offseason acquisitions, only Winker is pulling his weight. Joey Gallo, Eddie Rosario, and Nick Senzel have combined for a 54 wRC+ and -0.4 FanGraphs WAR (through 04/19).

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On that note, it’s hard to imagine Winker will still be playing in a Nationals uniform after the trade deadline this summer. The Nats are 8-11 with a -16 run differential and 0.3% playoff odds, per FanGraphs. Winker is set to reach free agency in November, and he currently looks like the team’s best trade chip.

I wrote about Jesse Winker a couple of times this offseason. First, I included him on my list of NL East bounce-back candidates. A month later, I wrote about him as a minor league signing who could have a major impact this year.

Three weeks into the season, he’s making me look pretty prescient. After a forgettable season in 2023, Winker is off to a strong start in 2024. It’s too soon to say what the future holds, but he is certainly having a major impact so far.