“Just walk it off.” If you are roughly my age or older chances are almost certain that you’ve heard this at some point in your life, be it directed at you or otherwise. Maybe you got a scrape on your knee falling off a bicycle, I certainly had plenty of those. Or maybe you landed badly on your ankle and twisted it a little trying to catch a ball, I had plenty of those as well. Or maybe you’re a Major League caliber player coming off an All Star season where you were one of the best hitters in all of baseball who has been struggling to produce hits. Enter, Jesse Winker.
Terribly unlucky Jesse Winker, as Kate astutely outlined just last Tuesday. At that time he was the 16th unluckiest player in all of MLB per wOBA versus xwOBA, touting a .268 and .408 respectively. The stark difference between his expected and actual stats provided then a comfort that a change of luck was not an issue of if, but when. Cold comfort for Jesse Winker who, believe it or not, has only gotten even more unlucky since. As of right now those numbers are a wOBA of .265 versus an xwOBA of .405, for a difference of .140 or the 9th unluckiest in all of Major League Baseball. His BABIP sitting at a 13th lowest .182. Sure enough to test the patience of the most statuesque of us. If being patient makes one statue-like, then Jesse Winker has been The Colossus of Rhodes, returned from history to point today’s players down a new path to walk.
When faced with adversity and bad luck in regards to his season, Jesse Winker has taken the “walk it off” advice in a literal, baseball sense, leading the league with a BB% of 22.1%. Not simply watching the balls zoom past him, his K% of 13.2% ranks 20th league wide, and 3rd best on the team behind Ty France at 10.8% and J.P. Crawford’s ridiculous, league leading 5.9%. Jesse Winker is patient, but he is only human, as much as we might like to think of athletes as gods among men.
He certainly looked very human in his first three at bats yesterday, going 0-3. Maybe that’s what it took, maybe that was the spark he needed. In his fourth at bat in the bottom of the tenth, the team down 4-3 and the game hanging in the balance, he did this:
Only one whiff in an eleven pitch at bat, making opposing pitcher Taylor Clarke work and work until he finally ran thin enough to make a mistake that Winker could capitalize on. That he did, hitting a sacrifice fly just deep enough to bring Frazier home and tie the game, prolonging the Royals’ misery and daring us to Believe once more.
This was not the last we would see of Winker in last night’s game though, nor was it the last of his heroics. Gone was the Colossus of Rhodes, instead he had come to life to resemble more the sun god Helios that inspired it, entering this gladiator’s arena we call baseball to strike down the mere mortal Royals, whose name betrays their station. It was again time for Jesse to walk off his troubles, again in a literal baseball sense, but this time in a clutch, game winning Walk-Off hit to the outfield, sealing the Mariners’ 5-4 victory in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Nobody can say for certain if last night will be the turning point in Jesse Winker’s luck, even if all signs point to its eventuality, we might have more patience required of us in that regard. One thing is without question though. He came to compete, he came to be part of a winning team. This team who, without exaggeration, have had heroic moments in the last week from every spot in the order. Jesse Winker was just one of a few such heroes in last night’s game, but arguably he needed that moment more than anyone else in the lineup, and the fact that it was the game winning moment meant maybe the baseball gods are finally showing their mercy. A game winning moment that was the spark that lit up the Electric Factory, shining long into the night of the Emerald City.