Dan Winkler was in many ways a feel-good story for the Atlanta Brave,s as he battled multiple injuries before emerging as a key piece of the team’s bullpen in 2018. Winkler made 69 appearances for the Braves in 2018, posting a 3.43 ERA and an impressive 2.76 FIP. That was enough for a top-40 relief season in 2018 by fWAR. However, he was ultimately left off the team’s postseason roster after struggling over the final month of the season. Winkler’s struggles continued into Spring Training and he began the season with Gwinnett instead of Atlanta. He would eventually get his opportunity but was unable to match the success from his breakout 2018.
What went right in 2019?
Winkler began the season at Gwinnett but was promoted to the majors in mid-April. He appeared in 27 games at the major league level posting a 4.98 ERA along with a 5.84 FIP, and eventually got sent back down to the minors. He didn’t find any success at Gwinnett either, where he was tagged for nine earned runs in 16 2/3 innings. The Braves traded Winkler and prospect Tristan Beck to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Mark Melancon at the trade deadline. Winkler was immediately designated for assignment but finished the season with San Francisco’s Triple-A team where he found better results allowing six hits and just one run in 12 appearances.
On the plus side, he had this crazy no-look bunt:
While his overall performance was far from good, he still had his share of effective outings. A good example of this came on May 24, with the Braves holding a two-run lead over the Cardinals that was very much threatened — Mike Foltynewicz had allowed the first two batters to reach, Jerry Blevins got the first out, and Winkler was asked to preserve the margin by retiring Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez. He did just that, striking out Bader and getting Martinez to fly out. He was also a part of a footnote-level victory for the Braves in April where he combined with Josh Tomlin, Luke Jackson, and A.J. Minter to throw 3 1⁄3 scoreless, hitless innings of relief in which the Reds went ten up, ten down and the Braves squeaked by with a 3-1 victory.
What went wrong in 2019?
Winkler struggled with his command and control for the Braves in 2019. After walking a total of 20 batters in over 60 innings in 2018, he issued 11 free passes in just over 21 innings. His struggles weren’t confined to just the major league level as he walked 18 in just 16 2/3 innings at Gwinnett.
The worst Winkler outing is pretty obvious, as it was one of the worst outings by a Braves reliever in 2019: Winkler came on for the eighth with the Braves up 3-2, and left the outing with the Braves down 6-3 to the Cardinals. He allowed three singles and a three-run homer to Jedd Gyorko, who finished the year with just two homers, a 36 wRC+, and -0.7 fWAR. Amazingly, he survived on the roster for a whole three weeks beyond that point.
All in all, Winkler showcased the volatility of relievers. His failure in 2019 didn’t come out of nowhere: he lost a tick on his fastball, his cutter lost a bit of its break, and his curveball, which never really dropped much, had its motion diminish further. It seems that he could be effective when all three of those pitches were better, but couldn’t do much when they got worse.
What to expect in 2020?
Winkler elected free agency at the end of the season and will likely be looking for a minor league deal and/or an invite to Spring Training.