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Grey had Taijuan Walker as a top 30 starting pitcher in his preseason rankings.

I thought that was clinically insane when combing through his pitcher rankings upon their release in early February.

The argument was there, I just couldn’t support it. Walker had a favorable division change to the NL West which made sense, but not 20 spots worth of an impact. I was stumped as to how you categorize him an SP3 (top 36 SP). Using youth to project future success is one I often turn to, but rarely in regards to seasonal relevance.

Joey Gallo is a good example of a player who over the last two years I have suggested taking a step back to see the big picture with. Even with the genuinely terrifying strikeout rate, to say you have never been unbelievably impressed with a good handful of Gallo’s at bats is a flat out lie. Anybody who can hit baseballs as hard and far as him, at the age of 23, has to be given some leeway for developmental matters. (Side note, I talked with Murray Chass on a podcast I host and he suggested that distance on home runs didn’t matter. Take that for data!). The fault in my “step back and calm down” philosophy with young players is that I sometimes miss the breakout year. I wasn’t high on Gallo for this season, and that was a mistake, but I’m fine with being cautious season-to-season on breakouts without something underneath the surface that I can believe in. I didn’t envision an early Adrian Beltre injury, nor did I think his swinging strike rate could come down 5% so quickly.

Pitching is different animal, but the general theory still persists. I just couldn’t wrap my head around Walker…

His prospect pedigree was still embedded, but the reason I couldn’t buy in for 2017 was due to the lack of a discernible improvement, or “Aha moment,” at literally any point in his career, to pique my interest. My thinking was obvious from very early on, as I famously stood on my soapbox and preached the gospel of selecting the almighty James Paxton over a multitude of starters, including Walker. It’s so hard for me to put a starter inside the top 36, without and bet on this  being the year he figures whatever ‘it’ is out, especially if I struggle for evidence of potential success. From a high level view, I emphasize that the Walker belief was warranted long, and want to specify that I’m not trashing Grey’s reasoning in the slightest.

The funniest aspect of my gradual shift to belief with Walker? His ‘rough’ start to 2017 and the majority of general fantasy owners cut bait on Walker very quickly, citing continual disappointment as the driver. I quietly stood in the background thinking to myself, “Wow – I actually like Walker as a buy low.” For some weird reason I found myself coming around on the Walker love, and all it took was him disappointing for what I believe will be the last time (hot take alert). Surface results of his first four starts is what caused an industry-wide shoulder shrug, and if I was an owner pre season, it would’ve been tough to not shrug along. I was in the minority of individuals who has actually been impressed by Taijuan Walker’s ‘struggles’ in his first few bouts, mainly because his slider (we’ll get there) and peripherals were attractive.

Compared to last year, Walker’s strikeouts are up (20.8% to 26.4%), swinging strikes are up (10% to 11.5%), walks are down (6.5% to 5.6%), and FIP is insanely low at 3.01, from its 4.99 mark last season. This is your classic baseline for buying low on any player who has owners tired of the early returns in the ERA department and the box score (save his 11K gem last time out). Walker is pitching better than he ever has in his career.

Most impressive to me is the jump to an elite swinging strike rate, top 25 this season among arms with 21+ innings of work.

If we take a look at the biggest improvements in swinging strike rate from 2016 to 2017 among qualified pitchers in both years (below), Walker would fit in among the top. Our list itself is a bit interesting too. Disclaimer: Chris Sale is really good, and hilariously the Red Sox have scored less runs than the White Sox this season. It isn’t a list of pitchers who I would immediately buy in all formats – there is more to the story with a lot of them – but the best thing a pitcher can do is generate empty swings. It’s a data point we need to be aware of.

Was this predictable for Walker?

Well, if you were to project an uptick in performance for Taijuan, one of the stronger arguments that could’ve been made (from March 1st onward) dealt with the rumbling in Spring around his tweaked slider. As I wrote about regarding Dylan Bundy a few weeks ago, we’re continually seeing breakouts on the mound that come from addition and rebirth of pitches. It’s insanely hard to project what these changes will do, but in today’s world, where the immersion of stats makes statistical sleepers quickly devolve from actually being a ‘sleeper’, the little room there is for finding great value outside of factors like this.

A common move is to look to at the last few starts a pitcher has at the end of the prior season and see if something has carried over. Walker had a great start in Los Angeles, spinning an 11 strikeout, complete game in mid September, but he did it with minimal usage of the pitch that has brought him to relevance this season, his slider. We had so little of a baseline to go off of in our expectations for 2017 season, I’m not kicking myself for missing what I think could be coming for Walker.

Even crazier is the fact that Walker hasn’t gotten a swinging strike on this new slider in any of his last four starts. His fastball is the pitch that has improved the most in being a ‘put away’ offering (14 swinging strikes on fastballs alone in his 11K game). While I’d love to see more misses on the slider, I’m speculating the overall success is a matter of setting up other pitches much more effectively, off of the new slider, even if in his last few starts, he hasn’t been throwing it as much. This is similar in philosophy to another player who has seen some early success, Luis Severino. He possesses a slider and changeup that both haven’t improved in regards to swinging strikes but are being set up better by the differential in speed from his fastball to changeup (Severino’s fastball velocity is up slightly, with a changeup velocity that is down 2 MPH).

I like what I see from Taijuan Walker this year, and am willing to pick up some shares and see where this ride takes us.

I’m slotting him in currently as a top 175 player, just behind Kevin Gausman and Rich Hill, but with some refinement to my rankings coming, I’d take Walker over Gausman, and other arms around the Vince Velasquez range of my ranks. Razzball is giving Walker a 4.21 ERA with a K/9 under 9 and a 1.21 WHIP for the rest of 2017. A decent 3.76 SIERA (FIP-esque statistic) suggests the results may not be as nice as the underlying numbers (Walker owners know all too well how that feels). I see something below a 4.00 ERA as reasonable, let’s say 3.8, with a K/9 at or slightly above 9, as I’m buying the new profile and fastball effectiveness. He’s a high variance arm that I like the now visible upside of.

Big test coming as he heads to the nation’s capital to face one of the most terrifying offenses in the Nationals early this week. A hard luck loss might present an opportunity for you to go to the once again disgruntled Walker owner in your league and push for a swap at a nice price. Also keep in mind, Arizona will be breaking out the humidor in the near future, which can only help a starter like Walker, with a history of home run problems.

 

 

Never hesitate to shoot me a message on Twitter with any questions, I’ll always respond with some insight, or you can fire away below! (@LanceBrozdow)

   
  1. Adam says:
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    Drop haniger or Dahl?
    Only have one DL spot

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Adam:
      I’m holding Haniger. I think Dahl may be squeezed out of some playing time with Desmond playing the OF, and Haniger is only going to be out 3-4 weeks (not great, but hoping this oblique problem doesn’t linger).

      Would try to hold both if I could for a little longer to see Dahl’s progression though. How deep is your bench?

  2. Darren says:
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    Gonna drop Parra since he’s not playing every day anymore… Thinking about either Wong or Deshields … 12 team roto forever keeper .. Whatya think?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Darren:
      Hmm, pretty close, leaning DeShields.

      Nobody else better on the waivers?! Haha

      • Darren says:
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        @Lance: haha next best guys imo are Markakis and Toles

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @Darren:
          I mean, at least markakis is playing everyday haha

          I’d probably go him over DeShields

  3. Slimcompoop says:
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    As a lifelong M’s fan, and current owner of Taijuan Walker, thank you for the in-depth post. Walker is like grocery store sushi, you don’t expect much going into it, but sometimes you get a good sushi chef, and other times it tastes like stale rice and seaweed. I’m going to ride him out.

    In unrelated news, I have Nomar Mazara in my 10-team, OBP, keeper league. Would you cut bait with him for Conforto? My mind is telling me no, but my body, my body is telling me yes. Thoughts?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Slimcompoop:
      Haha no problem man! We’all both ride it out, I think some encouraging results are ahead.

      My first thought is that Mazara is probably it your worst player, as in, is there anybody else you can cut for Conforto. He’s a must add right now, and will provide better value than Mazara RoS, but long term I probably have them relatively even, Mazara even a smidge.

      For 2017-2018 gimmie Conforto, beyond that close, but edge to Mazara for me.

      Hopefully that helps!

      • Slimcompoop says:
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        @Lance: You’re dead on…Mazara is probably my worst player at this point, maybe Fowler although he’s been playing better as of late. There is Dickerson too. OBP league. Waiver claims are tonight. Appreciate the feedback.

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @Slimcompoop:
          I think if you’re talking in a keeper sense, so a mix of win now value and long term value, I would have no problem dropping Corey Dickerson for Conforto. I know Corey is playing well, but I’m not as ‘in’ on him as Conforto.

          Anytime man!

  4. Ryan says:
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    How would you rank Walker, Maeda, and E. Rodriquez?

    I only have a spot for two of them…and Maeda is on the wire. As much as I hate dropping E-Rod, feels like that might be the smart play?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Ryan:
      I have them Maeda – Walker – ERod!

  5. Jake L says:
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    Do I drop Trumbo? I have J.D . Martinez coming back soon and just don’t see Trumbo hitting another 40 plus bombs and his average will hover around 245 . My roster is:

    Realmuto
    Goldschmidt
    Dozier, Villar
    Donaldson, Bregman
    Story, Owings
    Myers
    Desmond
    K. Davis
    Trumbo
    (DL) Dahl
    (DL) J. D. Martinez

    And this just happened as I was typing but maeda and lackey just hit waivers who is worth the grab? I would be dropping rosenthal

    Thanks for your time!

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Jake L:
      Man, it’s really hard for me to suggest dropping Trumbo in any format. I know he’s off to a slow start, but he’s always been a high variance bat.

      Out of that, I would probably drop Owings honestly if you HAVE to get JD back in your lineup, Owings has been great but he’s clearly your worst player of that bunch. I’m not giving up on Trumbo.

      Another strategy is if you’re weekly lock, hold JD in your DL for a bit and reassess in a week or so. Never know with the 10 day DL of Trumbo gets a rest or something random (we’ve seen weirder).

      I don’t mind dropping rosenthal for either, I think I have Maeda a bit ahead of Lackey.

      Just to reaffirm my points, let me know your format

      • Jake L says:
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        @Lance:

        Thanks for the detailed response man. And my bad, it’s 5×5 basic cats. And yeah it’s just hard owning Trumbo right now and I like Owings home park, and ability to contribute in multiple cats.

        Thanks again!

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @Jake L:
          More than happy to help out Jake – it’s tough owning him no doubt, but I’d have a little more patience.

          I get the Owings love, but I’d drop him over JD if I had to. Just from a value standpoint – I do get the Owings love though.

          It’s a tough call, but I think you know my suggestion by now if you choose to follow it!

  6. BayOfPuigs says:
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    Carpenter and Duffy for Daniel Murphy, H2h points league, which side wins? I can give up the pitching to upgrade bats

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @BayOfPuigs:
      It’s relatively fair if you really have that much pitching depth.

      I’d take the Carp/Duffy side though. Like the combo – Murphy is great, but Carp in pts league is very valuable, even with his early season slump. The difference between Carp to Murphy isn’t large enough to warrant throwing in Duffy for me.

  7. Ralph Lifshitz

    Ralph Lifshitz says:
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    Nice work Lance! Did you notice any change in his setup, or glove placement in his windup? I read that in the preseason he made those tweaks in addition to the slider.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Ralph Lifshitz:
      Actually just jumped over and watched a bit of tape on him compared to last year, this was something I really hadn’t looked into honestly.

      MLB.com actually has a video where the Mariners’ booth goes over a mechanical change dealing with closing off the inside of his upper body and toe of his plant foot as he began his motion to the plate (I’ll post the raw URL below this). He almost employs a bit of a Johnny Cueto-esque ‘coil’ or rotation that allows him to stay closed and drive off the foot stronger than if he were to fly open.

      It looks like he tweaked it early Sept 2016 and referencing it back to his starts this year, he kept up with it.

      Very interesting! Something I wish I caught upon my bit of research on him. Would definitely credit some of his success to this.

      http://m.mlb.com/video/v1150639983/texsea-mariners-broadcast-discusses-walkers-motion/?query=taijuan+walker

  8. Robert says:
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    Hamels for Desmond, good deal? I have Cueto, McCullers, Salazar, Duffy, Severino and Lynn.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Robert:
      I’d take Desmond regardless of format

      I’m pretty low on Hamels compared to others though, so take my confidence in doing that move with a bit of caution for my bias haha

  9. Make Richie Sexson Again says:
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    On your rankings you have D. Gordon ahead of Trea Turner. What is the thought process behind that?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Make Richie Sexson Again:
      Sure, this is something I may reassess when I update this weekend, but I think their aggregate values are relatively close rest of season. I see more steals coming from Gordon, and with that being the main draw of either, I’m leaning towards the one I think can get to 50-60 easier than Turner can (30ish for him is my expectation), even though Turner will have more HRs and AVG. I guess it’s a matter of SB upside for me.

      I’m not nearly as high on Turner as others, as I tend not to place a premium on speed without 20ish+ HR pop (which I don’t think Turner has yet). I’ll think this over again on the update, but thanks for digging in!

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