It’s time for everyone’s favorite game that no one knew was their favorite game, Fun With Numbers! As a contestant of this wildly popular game that you didn’t know existed, I’m going to give you the numbers of two pitchers. You won’t know either pitcher until I dramatically reveal their names, but you’ll probably guess Taijuan Walker is going to be one. Okay, the suspense is killing me, so here goes! The first pitcher had 174 Ks and 56 BBs in 195 IP (8.03 K/9, 2.58 BB/9), compiling a 4.43 ERA. Then, the 2nd pitcher had 157 Ks and 40 walks in 169 2/3 IP (8.33 K/9, 2.12 BB/9) with a 4.56 ERA. The 2nd pitcher is Taijuan Walker (how’d you guess?!). The first pitcher is… Here it comes…Shoot, I left the name in my car. One second. Okay, I’m back! The 2nd pitcher is…Max Scherzer in 2011! In 2011, Scherzer was 27 years old and looked headed to the “Great Stuff, Unsure If He Can Put It Together” bin with some other hard throwers. Then, obviously, everything clicked and he was completely dominant for the next four years. In 2015, Taijuan was only 22 years old for most of the season, and now he’s 23. So, is Taijuan also a hard thrower that can’t put it together or is he on the verge of greatness? I think you know what camp I fall into. One more Fun With Numbers, because the nonexistent audience insists! In 2013, this pitcher threw 147 1/3 IP with 136 Ks and 33 walks (8.31 K/9, 2.02 BB/9). That pitcher was Corey Kluber at the age of 27 before he went on to win the Cy Young the next year. It’s not hard to recognize what these pitchers have in common. It’s what I seek most of all, besides One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. If a guy strikes out a lot of hitters while walking few, they need to get really unlucky to not be usable. Taijuan’s walk rate in 2014: 4.26. His walk rate in 2015: 2.12. I.e., Walker’s no longer a walker. Taijuan Walker averaged a 94.3 MPH fastball, tied for the 13th best in baseball, right behind Chris Sale and Carlos Carrasco. Walker, velocitease or “Here comes the velocity-rapture?” Again, you know where I stand (sit). Taijuanna know more? I bet you do. Anyway, what can we expect from Taijuan Walker for 2016 fantasy baseball and what makes him a sleeper?
Let’s get the negative out of the way first, the one thing Scherzer and Kluber had in common in the above examples. They were older than Walker and were ready for that next step. Very few pitchers take the next step at such a young age like Walker. His teammate, F-Her, comes to mind. Or does he?! Actually, F-Her does come to mind, so shut your mouth, reversal question. “That hurts…Or does it?!” F-Her had a solid 22-year-old season, then broke out in his 23-year-old season, but didn’t really peak until his age 27 season. (Peak’s relative here, F-Her was bloody good for about five seasons from 22 thru 27. I’m just talking about his K-rate and walk rate peaking.) The age 27 season being the peak is a myth like your favorite sweatpants being a good luck charm for getting the ladies, but Taijuan is really young still. It wouldn’t shock me to see him put together a 3.75 ERA season in 2016 while being great some months and poor other months. However, if Walker can approach his 1.7 BB/9 in the 2nd half of last year over a full season, he only needs to register around a 7.5 K/9 to be ownable in all leagues (assuming neutral luck, yadda cubed). Seriously, listen to these names: Liriano, Wacha, Wei-Yin, Carlos Martinez, Yordano and James Shields. Know what they all had in common? A worse WHIP than Taijuan last year (1.20). That’s a 22 year old kid against those names (Okay, C-Mart and Wacha aren’t exactly old, but still). Taijuan will be a top 20 starter for many years, it’s just a matter whether 2016 is the start of that run. For 2016, I’ll give him the projections of 12-10/3.41/1.17/185 in 194 innings.