The Diamondbacks’ Late-Career Breakout Slugger

The Diamondbacks have had an honest second half. Despite dropping 5 of their final six video games, they carry a 26-23 file with a +31 run differential for the reason that All-Star Break. It’s not sufficient to get them close to the playoff image, however they’ve proven some indicators of life heading into the offseason.

An otherworldly stretch from ace Zac Gallen has performed a key function within the group’s strong run, however in addition they rank fourth within the majors in runs scored within the second half. Young outfielders Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy and (in a extra restricted look) Corbin Carroll have been wonderful, and so they’ve gotten the continuation of what appears to be a late-career breakout season from first baseman Christian Walker.

Walker has popped 10 residence runs and owns a .286/.348/.497 line for the reason that All-Star Break, constructing off what was already a strong first half. While he solely hit .204 via the 12 months’s first few months, he linked on 22 longballs and walked at a sturdy 13.5% clip. His walks have come down recently, however he is additionally trimmed his strikeouts and is now seeing a lot better outcomes on balls in play. For the 12 months, Walker owns a .235/.329/.474 line that is a methods higher than the .243/.312/.396 league common exhibiting.

A former fourth-round decide of the Orioles, Walker developed into a reasonably well-regarded prospect. He by no means received an prolonged look in Baltimore, and he finally made his means across the waiver wire in Spring Training 2017. The South Carolina product wound up with the Diamondbacks after a nomadic few weeks, with Arizona lastly succeeding in working him via outright waivers. After a 12 months spent principally within the minors, Walker made it again to the massive leagues. He misplaced most of 2018 to damage however has performed the previous 4 seasons because the Snakes’ main first baseman.

For a lot of that tenure, Walker has been a barely above-average hitter. He linked on 29 longballs in 2019, however that got here in probably the most homer-happy season in league historical past. His total .259/.348/.476 line that 12 months translated to a 111 wRC+ that signifies he was 11 factors higher than league common — strong, however not eye-popping manufacturing for a primary baseman. Walker had related ends in the abbreviated 2020 season earlier than stumbling to a subpar .244/.315/.382 exhibiting via 445 plate appearances final 12 months.

With rookie Seth Beer on the doorstep of the majors as a primary base/DH choice, it was truthful to wonder if the Diamondbacks would preserve Walker round. Arizona’s entrance workplace maintained sufficient religion that he righted the ship to signal him to a $2.6MM arbitration contract, and he was again within the lineup as Torey Lovullo’s Opening Day first baseman. It was most likely the 31-year-old’s final probability at on a regular basis enjoying time, and he responded with one of the best season of his profession.

Not solely are Walker’s outcomes higher than ever when one accounts for the depressed offensive atmosphere this 12 months — his 121 wRC+ is a profession excessive — he is made some strides from a course of perspective. He’s clearly got down to be extra selective, swinging at solely 43.7% of the pitches he is seen after going after greater than 48% of choices in every of the previous three seasons. That elevated endurance means bypassing some hittable pitches, in fact, and Walker’s taking extra known as strikes than he ever has. Yet he is additionally chasing pitcher’s pitches far much less typically, and it is laborious to argue with the outcomes.

Walker is making contact on a career-best 77.6% of his swings, and he appears extra comfy working his means again into at-bats. He’s not increasing the strike zone as typically as he had, even when pitchers are up within the rely and/or working with two strikes. Walker’s making higher swing selections, and it is manifesting each in a personal-low 18.4% strikeout charge and within the high quality of contact he is making when he does take the bat off his shoulders. After seeing his laborious contact and barrel charges drop up to now two seasons, Walker is squaring the ball up with extra consistency once more, as he had again in 2019.

As a primary baseman, Walker’s main contributions are going to be within the batter’s field. Yet he is additionally excelled on the opposite facet of the ball, ranking as MLB’s high defensive first baseman by a large margin when it comes to each Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average. It’s laborious to think about he will not safe his first Gold Glove Award just a few weeks from now. He’s restricted to the underside of the defensive spectrum, however Walker has been one of many recreation’s higher gamers on the place on each side of the ball.

Whether Walker can maintain this sort of manufacturing over a number of seasons stays to be seen. There’s nothing in his underlying numbers to counsel he is lucked his means in the direction of the highest of the primary base leaderboards in 2022. If something, batted ball estimators have been purple bullish than his total outcomes, with Walker nonetheless sporting one of many league’s lowest batting averages on balls in play (.235). Nothing on this season’s manufacturing seems like a fluke, however he’ll have to show he can keep this sort of discerning method yearly. One can have “earned” wonderful outcomes for just a few months and nonetheless not be capable to proceed enjoying at that stage for a number of seasons. Walker most likely wants one other 12 months like this earlier than he cements himself among the many 5 to 10 finest first basemen within the recreation.

Caveats apart, he is carried out in addition to the Diamondbacks might have moderately anticipated coming into the season. It’s now a no brainer to tender him one other arbitration contract, and the membership can preserve him round for 2 extra years through that course of. Arizona was open to commerce provides on Walker at this previous summer time’s deadline, and so they determine to obtain just a few extra calls this winter after he doubled down with a superb second half. General supervisor Mike Hazen and his employees presumably would not take him off the desk totally, but it surely’ll be tougher for groups to pry Walker away now than it was simply two months in the past. Not solely has the group taken some steps ahead heading into 2023, their first baseman has cemented himself as an integral a part of the lineup.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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