Everyone loves a good Rookie of the Year story. Whether it’s a top-notch pitcher or mind-blowing slugger, fans love to see new MLB players perform well. We are now in the heart of the 2018 season, and another group of youngsters is building their cases for the Rookie of the Year Award. One player from that group has a surprising case to present, and that player is Atlanta Braves reliever Dan Winkler.
Dan Winkler’s Surprising Rookie of the Year Candidacy
First and foremost, it must be said that Winkler is not your typical rookie. He had appeared in parts of three MLB seasons prior to 2018, but injuries limited him to 21 total appearances from 2015-2017. He made two appearances in 2015 but was not used again until the start of 2016.
It was during the early weeks of 2016 that Winkler began to look like a quality reliever. He made three appearances, did not allow a run, and recorded four strikeouts. In fact, he did not allow a single hit or fly ball before a broken elbow brought his season to a tragic halt. He was sidelined for the rest of the season and missed much of 2017 recovering.
After returning to action in 2017, Winkler put up a 2.51 ERA over 16 games. He was understandably not quite as sharp as at the start of 2016. However, he still managed to strikeout 18 batters in 14.1 innings pitched.
2018 Breakout Season
Now fully healthy, Winkler has been the best reliever out of Atlanta’s bullpen. He has made 30 appearances to date with a sparkling ERA of 1.59 and 38 strikeouts in 28.1 innings pitched. Not only is he dominating hitters this season, he finds himself among an elite group of relievers.
There are only five relievers with 30+ appearances to have a lower ERA than Winkler: Jeremy Jeffress (0.53), Yoshihisa Hirano (1.50), Jared Hughes (0.99), Kyle Barraclough (1.19), and Aroldis Chapman (1.21). Of this group, only Hirano is a rookie, but he does not have the kind of strikeout numbers that Winkler does. Additionally, Hirano is another atypical MLB rookie at 34-years old. What’s even more interesting is the pitcher of this group Winkler most resembles. Compare these two relievers:
Winkler: 28.1 innings pitched, 38 strikeouts, eight walks, zero home runs, 12.1 K/9, 1.46 FIP.
Pitcher B: 29.2 innings pitched, 52 strikeouts, 13 walks, zero home runs, 15.8 K/9, 1.20 FIP.
The second pitcher listed above, and arguably the reliever Winkler’s stats are closest to, is Chapman. Granted, Chapman’s strikeout numbers are on another level, but the biggest difference in the two is velocity. Chapman can crank his fastball up to 103 MPH while Winkler sits around 93-94 MPH. The other difference between the two is saves. Chapman has 19 while Winkler has zero, but the lack of saves should not be counted against Winkler.
Still, the point remains that FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is usually one of the best indicators of future success for pitchers. Guess how many pitchers of the group listed above have a FIP under 2.00? Absolutely none. Winkler and Chapman are also the only two of that group to not allow a home run.
The question then becomes: “Should Winkler win the NL Rookie of the Year Award?” Well, the current answer to that is “Maybe.” Winkler faces stiff competition from a few teammates in Mike Soroka and Ronald Acuna Jr. who could both make a push for the award with a strong second half. Then there are other guys like Jack Flaherty, Austin Meadows, Brian Anderson, Walker Buehler, and Juan Soto, all of which are putting up strong numbers to this point. Add in the fact that Winkler is a non-closer relief pitcher, and the odds of his winning the award look quite slim.
Still, there’s no denying Winkler is the most important arm to the Braves late-inning plans. He is showing what he can do when healthy, and hopefully he can remain healthy for the duration of this season. His numbers indicate he should continue being effective for quite some time if he is. If he is this effective all year, he should at least be considered for the NL Rookie of the Year.
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