Dan Winkler Should Stop Walking Leadoff Hitters Before His Luck Runs Out

Dan Winkler scares the hell out of me and it’s got nothing to do with his uncanny resemblance to Kevin Pickford. No, not the former Padres southpaw, I’m talking about the character played by Shawn Andrews in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. It isn’t Winkler’s physical appearance that has me rattled, it’s that what I see in the box score when he pitches is not alright, alright, alright.

Namely, dude is walking a lot of batters and surrendering way too much hard contact. He managed to record a hold Monday night by facing the minimum number of batters in his inning of work, but the double play that got him out of it was only an option because he’d walked the leadoff batter. In fact, he’s walked the first batter he’s faced in five of his six appearances for the Cubs this season.

The only outing in which he didn’t walk the leadoff man was his longest of the season. Winkler went two innings against the Brewers last Saturday, giving up just one hit to the seven batters he faced. That he’s only allowed two hits in 6.1 innings would be a testament to his stuff if it wasn’t also a sign that he’s not throwing enough strikes.

His 9.95 BB/9 mark is the second-highest in MLB among pitchers with more than 6 innings this year (Washington’s Josh James has a 12.1 BB/9 in 9.2 IP), which is not great but could perhaps be excused by the small sample. Except for that whole thing about walking the leadoff batter nearly every time. That why his 4.26 ERA is significantly lower than his 6.59 FIP, 6.10 xFIP, and 7.15 SIERA.

Even if you don’t know what all goes into those metrics, just understand that they work just like ERA when it comes to determining how many runs a pitcher should be giving up. In short, they tell us Winkler is getting really lucky. That is backed by the incredibly low .083 BABIP opposing hitters have mustered against him to this point despite the fact that he’s allowed 84.6% medium or hard contact.

Baseball is weird and can produce inexplicable results on occasion, but it’s very hard to believe Winkler can continue to occupy a position of trust in the bullpen if he keeps pitching like he has been. He’s got to improve immediately lest the inevitable reversal in batted-ball trends swallows him whole. How does that happen?

I wish I knew, but improving from 26.7% of pitches in the zone to something a wee bit closer to his 38% career average prior to joining the Cubs is a good start. For all the talk from the front office over the last several years about finding proven strike-throwers, it’s inexplicable how so many relievers seem to get worse in that regard upon coming to Chicago. It’s maddening, really.

And now I find myself with nothing more to write and no good way to end it. So I guess I’ll just say that it’d be great if Dan Winkler would just throw some more clean innings and make me feel silly about writing this.

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