Neil Walker’s Impressive Season

Neil Walker is only 24-years-old but has the prospect life of someone a few years his senior. Baseball America featured the 11th overall pick of the 2004 draft on four consecutive top 100 lists between 2005 and 2008. Walker peaked at 43 and fell off entering the 2009 season. During that stretch, Walker changed positions – from catching to third base – before ultimately finding a position that would lock him into the Buccos’ everyday lineup.

Though it is important to keep in mind how little time Walker has spent at the keystone, the defensive reports on Walker have not been encouraging to date. None of our fielding metrics are particularly kind to his play at second base this season and it seems the only area in which he’s excelled is turning the double play. One would suspect that Walker’s play would improve with experience, although Skip Schumaker is proof that sometimes that is not the case.

Walker’s defensive struggles would be immaterial if his bat were equally poor. Instead, Walker’s offensive production looks like an uplifting calypso tune on an otherwise scratched record. The .364 wOBA looks good, indeed, and Walker’s slash line is strong amongst second basemen. The walk rate (5.6%) and strikeout rate (21.3%) represent the incorrectly named Walker’s pitfalls.

Walker has the second best on-base percentage amongst players with a walk-to-strikeout ratio under 0.35, trailing only Carlos Gonzalez. In order to succeed with that skill set, a player has to either hit for a lot of power or hit for a high average. Walker is doing a bit of either so far with his average being propped by a .372 batting average on balls in play. Can Walker sustain that heading forward? Maybe, but betting on it seems like an unsafe proposition.

That’s not to say Walker cannot grow and mature into a fine offensive second baseman. It’s just to say he’s probably not one of the elite hitters at the position heading forward unless the BABIP proves sustainable.




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10 Responses to “Neil Walker’s Impressive Season”

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  1. DBS says:

    So is his season impressive or lucky? It seems like R.J. changed his mind mid-stream in the article.

    Walker is not this good with the bat and not this bad in the field. Next year the 2 will even out. He is a nice cost-controlled asset at 2B for the Pirates.

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    • eldingo says:

      I think it’s possible to have an impressive season, but to acknowledge that some of it may have been due to luck, and not to bet on a repeat performance.

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  2. houksyndrome says:

    One thing I have noticed with Walker is that he has steadily improved his walk rates when he repeats a particular level. At AAA from 2008-2010, his walk rates went 5.3%, 6.7% and 10%, steady improvement each year. Obviously, it is harder to draw walks in the majors so his rate is back down to 5.6%, but I think it’s possible he could improve it over time and that this improvement will compensate for his inevitable decline in BABIP to keep his wOBA right where it is now. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on the part of this Pirates fan.

    His defense is what has me worried.

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  3. Lintyfresh says:

    I thought this article was supposed to praise Walker?

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  4. jirish says:

    He hasn’t been great at 2nd base and I’m actually amazed that he is good at turning the double play. He never played 2nd base until the Pirates put him there after he was called up. So he never played it in spring training or the minors, just the majors.

    His bat seems fine; by all accounts he’s a hard worker, a local guy to boot. The Pirates have a whole lot of problems, and I look at him to fit in somewhere to solve a problem for them.

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    • Wizard Imp says:

      This is wrong. Walker played mostly 2nd base in the minors this year. He had never played there before this year, but with Pedro Alvarez starting the season as Indianapolis’ 3rd baseman (Walker’s prior position), they needed to find somewhere else for him to play so they tried him at 2nd. When he proved at least compeetent, then they decided to give him a shot when he put up good numbers at Indy while Iwamura was awful in Pittsburgh.

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    • MarkInDallas says:

      Actually, he split time between 3B, 1B, LF and 2B in the minors this year. When they saw Iwamura tanking after 1 month, they played Walker almost exclusively at 2B to see if he could be an answer there.

      So, he really only had about 2 – 3 weeks experience in the minors at 2B before being called up to the Pirates.

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  5. Andrew says:

    Having watched virtually every Pirate game this year, while not spectacular, his defense is hardly as bad as his UZR says it is. While his range is somewhat limited, especially to his right, it isn’t like he is Alfonso Soriano at 2B or that he cannot field the position at all. Considering this is his first season (half-season) at the position, I’d expect this to be his absolute bottom with lots of room to improve. I think in a year, maybe two, he will, at the least, be an average-to-above-average defender at his position.

    Regarding BABIP-induced numbers, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Will there be regression? Sure. However, there are two other reasons that bode well for Walker to maintain a high BABIP over the course of his career: At the end of 2009/beginning of 2010 in the minors, after he changed his approach vastly, his BABIP has amazingly consistent. In fact, his BABIP in the majors this year (.372) is only 8 pts higher than his BABIP in Indianapolis over the first two months of the season. However, more importantly, when you account for 300 at-bats this year, Walker is 3rd in the league in LD % at 24%. High LD% obviously helps your BABIP, and, generally shows that you are simply squaring up the ball really well, not that you are getting extremely lucky.

    Finally, one more thing: For all the credit/accolades that Buster Posey gets on here and other advanced sites (deserved, I may add), do yourself a favor and compare both of their seasons at the plate, obviously disregarding difference in position (which, I agree, makes Posey more valuable). They are remarkably similar in every category besides K rate.

    Walker won’t be this awesome…..but I think he has done enough to prove that he will be ‘pretty good’…..

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  6. Jake Perry says:

    Neil Walker’s batted ball profile: (LD%/GB%/FB%/IFBB%/HR/FB)
    24.2/35.2/40.5/2.8/9.3

    His ranks (340 min PA:217 total batters)
    5/193/77/202/118

    He’s hitting line drives, keeping the ball off the ground, and not popping up. His HR/FB is about average but his .184 ISO looks promising.

    I certainly don’t expect much improvement, but with progess in plate discipline, I see what he’s doing as sustainable. I do agree if he’s ever going to put up a 3+ win season he’s going to have to bring his glove.

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  7. DD says:

    I LOVE NEIL WALKER! GO BUCS!

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