If the Pirates are going to make any noise, whether it’s this year or in the near future, they’ll need top-notch production from the young players currently on their roster. With Andrew McCutchen, that isn’t a problem, since he’s produced at an elite level for the past year and a half. The emphasis this year will be on Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker. Walker, in particular, has gotten off to a hot start. While it doesn’t necessarily portend a quality season to come, it certainly is a sign of encouragement. While we have only four games to work with, two things have stood out about Walker’s performance.
1. He’s swinging for the fences
Walker has come to the plate 18 times this year and has recorded seven hits. More than half of them have gone for extra bases, including three doubles, and his go-ahead hit last night and the go-ahead grand slam on Opening Day. That’s good for a .353 ISO.
A sign that he really is taking some healthy hacks: in the 11 PA in which he has not gotten a hit, he has struck out seven times. He has also swung and missed at 10 of the 70 pitches thrown him, 14.3 percent. Again, this is not necessarily indicative of a trend. But it does appear that he’s swung the bat mighty hard in the first four games.
2. Throw him sliders, and keep it low
Of Walker’s 10 aforementioned swings and misses, seven have come on sliders. What’s more, five of those sliders have been well within the strike zone, mostly middle/low. Clearly that’s a trouble spot if the pitcher misses, but so far the only thing he’s done with any slider is foul it away. Even then, he’s only managed to foul off two. One was right in the middle of the zone.
There has been plenty of fun baseball to watch in the early going, thanks to the general uptick in power. But perhaps no player has been more fun to watch than Walker. Not only does he have a hit in every game, but he’s had an extra base hit in three of four. In two of four he has had a go-ahead extra base hit. While things will change and his luck will even out, it’s been a pleasure to watch his first few games. In a season when the Pirates need him to become a solid regular, he’s done everything in his power to show that’s what he is.
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