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Neil Walker and Walker Power Rankings

At this point, the reader should not be surprised that I claimed Neil Walker. I’ve often touched on him in the Roto Riteups — no really, I have a bit of a man-crush on him — and so it was only fitting I tackle his end of season numbers. Before we dive too deep into the stats, here are my official top 3 Walker Power Rankings, in order:

3. Walker, Texas Ranger
2. Neil Walker
1. AT-AT Walker

Shifting back into baseball, Neil Walker posted a bit of a mixed season. A .251/.339/.418 line with 16 dingers is useful, albeit not inspiring, from a middle infielder. Unfortunately he missed time in late April and early May with a hand laceration. On top of that, he was hit with a second stint on the disabled list in July with a muscle strain. The positives were among his fellow (qualified) second base peers, Walker’s .333 wOBA and 114 wRC+ ranked eighth and ninth respectively. For a player who was largely available in many leagues, Walker’s end-of-season numbers were of a player to grab and hang on to.

Despite his single season high of 16 home runs, Walker’s HR/FB rate this year was lower than last year. After back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012 where he posted a 1.26 GB:FB ratio, Walker stopped hitting as many grounders and began to launch the ball into the air. Unsurprisingly, his .274 BABIP this season was considerably lower than his .315 and .326 BABIP the previous two seasons. Be it a conscious change or random variation, a cursory glance would lead one to believe Walker’s power has seemingly come at the expense of his average. As per ESPN’s HitTrackerOnline, Walker’s 396.3 average true distance and 103 mph speed off of the bat this year compare favorably to last season’s 389.5 and 101.8 numbers. There are grains of salt to be had with those numbers, however they seem to indicate a more legitimate power increase than the raw home run and doubles numbers. It wouldn’t be crazy to see a power spike in a player’s age-27 season.

If one does believe Walker’s power may have cost him some base hits, he still maintained his strong walk rate and didn’t turn into a hacker hungry for home runs. Fellow OBP-leaguers can appreciate a 9.1% walk rate. I’ll spare you from any “Walker works the walks” puns. I will mention he is on a four year rise in BB%, up nearly two full percentage points from 2010. He’s also shown an ability to trim strikeouts, as his 15.4% strikeout rate this season was the lowest of his career.

Add in the fact that Walker hit two-hole for much of the season means only thing missing from his game is steals. Even without the running game, a player of Walker’s caliber isn’t something to be taken lightly. Rather than being considered an up-and-comer, I think Walker has arrived. If Walker can be healthy for a full season and play in something like 145 games — something he has done only twice in his professional career — in one calendar year then he would be drafted in the middle rounds, rather than being left to the waiver wire in standard 12-team 5×5 mixed leagues. Don’t tread walk on Walker (I couldn’t resist that one).