The Diamondbacks’ Late-Profession Breakout Slugger

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The Diamondbacks have had a good second half. Regardless of dropping 5 of their final six video games, they carry a 26-23 document with a +31 run differential because the 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 position within the group’s strong run, however additionally they rank fourth within the majors in runs scored within the second half. Younger outfielders Daulton VarshoJake McCarthy and (in a extra restricted look) Corbin Carroll have been wonderful, they usually’ve gotten the continuation of what appears to be a late-career breakout season from first baseman Christian Walker.

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

A former fourth-round decide of the Orioles, Walker developed into a reasonably well-regarded prospect. He by no means bought an prolonged look in Baltimore, and he finally made his approach across the waiver wire in Spring Coaching 2017. The South Carolina product wound up with the Diamondbacks after a nomadic few weeks, with Arizona lastly succeeding in operating him via outright waivers. After a yr spent principally within the minors, Walker made it again to the massive leagues. He misplaced most of 2018 to harm however has performed the previous 4 seasons because the Snakes’ major 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 essentially the most homer-happy season in league historical past. His total .259/.348/.476 line that yr 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 comparable ends in the abbreviated 2020 season earlier than stumbling to a subpar .244/.315/.382 displaying via 445 plate appearances final yr.

With rookie Seth Beer on the doorstep of the majors as a primary base/DH possibility, it was honest to wonder if the Diamondbacks would maintain Walker round. Arizona’s entrance workplace maintained sufficient religion he’d proper 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 in all probability the 31-year-old’s final likelihood at on a regular basis enjoying time, and he’s 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 surroundings this yr — his 121 wRC+ is a profession excessive — he’s 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’s seen after going after greater than 48% of choices in every of the previous three seasons. That elevated persistence means bypassing some hittable pitches, after all, and Walker’s taking extra referred to as strikes than he ever has. But he’s additionally chasing pitcher’s pitches far much less typically, and it’s arduous 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 approach again into at-bats. He’s not increasing the strike zone as typically as he had, even when pitchers are up within the depend and/or working with two strikes. Walker’s making higher swing choices, and it’s manifesting each in a personal-low 18.4% strikeout price and within the high quality of contact he’s making when he does take the bat off his shoulders. After seeing his arduous contact and barrel charges drop prior 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 major contributions are going to be within the batter’s field. But he’s additionally excelled on the opposite facet of the ball, ranking as MLB’s prime defensive first baseman by a large margin when it comes to each Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Common. It’s arduous to think about he received’t 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 sport’s higher gamers on the place on each side of the ball.

Whether or not 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’s lucked his approach in the direction of the highest of the primary base leaderboards in 2022. If something, batted ball estimators have been extra 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 appears to be like like a fluke, however he’ll have to show he can preserve this sort of discerning method yearly. One can have “earned” wonderful outcomes for just a few months and nonetheless not be capable of proceed enjoying at that degree for a number of seasons. Walker in all probability wants one other yr like this earlier than he cements himself among the many 5 to 10 greatest first basemen within the sport.

Caveats apart, he’s carried out in addition to the Diamondbacks might have fairly anticipated coming into the season. It’s now a no brainer to tender him one other arbitration contract, and the membership can maintain him round for 2 extra years by way of that course of. Arizona was open to trade offers on Walker at this previous summer time’s deadline, they usually determine to obtain just a few extra calls this winter after he’s doubled down with a superb second half. Basic supervisor Mike Hazen and his employees presumably wouldn’t take him off the desk fully, however it’ll be more durable 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.

Picture courtesy of USA Right this moment Sports activities.


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