I was taken aback when I saw Taijuan Walker a week or so ago post a line of 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 12 Ks. He’s made some good starts this year… but THAT one really got my attention. There were no walks, a lot of Ks, and he pitched deep into the game. Hello there. This is not the same Walker we once knew.

Coming into the league, Walker was heralded as a flame-throwing pitcher with a heater that could touch 98 mph. That pitch did not translate quite as well as was hoped when he faced MLB hitters since it was lacking much movement. He struggled the first couple seasons with injures and eventually had Tommy John surgery that was followed by several shoulder ailments that have plagued his career until recently. In the short 2020 season, he pitched through it and made it into free agency. This last winter he signed with Mets, and from the looks of it, it’s beginning to seem like they got a steal.

Before we can see what he’s doing, we need to see what he’s done (when healthy)…

Season Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP SIERA
2015 22 169.2 8.33 2.12 1.33 4.56 4.07 3.69
2016 23 134.1 7.97 2.48 1.81 4.22 4.99 4.13
2017 24 157.1 8.35 3.49 0.97 3.49 4.04 4.42
2020 27 53.1 8.44 3.21 1.35 2.70 4.56 4.60
2021 28 74.1 9.32 2.91 0.61 2.42 3.01 3.89

Despite being in the majors since 2013, he’s only had 3 seasons of 100+ innings and 4 seasons (2020 not included cus reasons) of less than 40. In his first couple seasons with a decent sample, he struggled a bit with ERAs each over 4.20 and tasted a bit of success in 2017 where he posted a 3.49 ERA. One key factor being, he was finally able to limit the long ball. It returned a bit in his next healthy season in 2020; but now in 2021, he’s found a way to limit it again. That, and a K/9 spiking above 9 for the first time in his career along with dropping his BB/9 back down below 3.

Season Age IP K% BB% K-BB% ERA WHIP CSW%
2015 22 169.2 22.2% 5.7% 16.6% 4.56 1.20 27.6%
2016 23 134.1 20.8% 6.5% 14.3% 4.22 1.24 26.4%
2017 24 157.1 21.3% 8.9% 12.4% 3.49 1.33 26.2%
2020 27 53.1 22.2% 8.4% 13.8% 2.70 1.16 26.9%
2021 28 74.1 26.1% 8.1% 18.0% 2.42 1.05 29.8%

Not only are the Ks coming more frequently but he’s getting the drop on batters the best of his career. With his K% easily the highest of his career, it’s also creating the greatest separation from his walk rate also at a peak of 18%. At the same time, he’s limiting hits (WHIP 1.05) a new trend that he carried over from 2020.

He’s getting calls too. Not just through umpires’ grace, but by pitching in the zone for a career-high mark of 48.9% and getting ahead early with a career-high first-pitch strike of 65.8%. That lends itself to improved command and a key to fewer walks. Is he just commanding better or is something else in his favor too? Let’s go to his pitches.

What have we here? A key change since 2020 (when he started lowering his WHIP and ERA) was changing his pitch mix, drastically. In 2020, Walker began throwing a sinker (which is more of 2-seamer due to the arm-side run) and now in 2021 he’s throwing it nearly as much as his 4-seamer AND he’s added a slider while reincorporated his curve. That’s now 5 pitches. But the 2-seamer is what makes everything else work.

Season vLHB vRHB
2016 0.208 0.285
2017 0.230 0.262
2020 0.265 0.178
2021 0.172 0.229

In 2016 and 2017, Righties hit .285 and .262 against Walker. The reason being, his 4-seamer was straight as an arrow with no movement and if he missed a location, Walker became Homer. What made matters worse, he didn’t have a pitch that could run in on the hands of righties and neutralize their plate coverage.

That’s the power of the 2-seamer. It follows the same path as the 4-seamer then darts to the right. Now it’s a problem for righties that crowd the plate and he can still start it on the edge (like above) to tie up open-stance guys too. This year though, he’s learned how to use it against lefties as well. And that’s been the game-changer. Here’s what I mean:

Rizzo didn’t stand a chance. Because he was hugging the plate, he made himself vulnerable to the 2-seamer inside and there was nothing he could do about it. Thanks for playing, have a seat. And now because that is such a weapon, all the other pitches fall in line around it.

Take a look at the spin chart. Have I said yet that this is my new favorite tool? On the left is the spinning movement the ball has from his release. Notice how the 4-seamer, 2-seamer (sinker), and splitter all are inline with the same axis. As those 3 pitches leave his hand, they all look the same. Then when you look at their observed movement you see the 3 pitchers break off in different ways. And directionally the 4-seamer stays true, splitter drops out, and the 2-seamer dart off to the right. That’s where the magic happens.

This synergy with his pitches, combined with the semi-balanced usage rates, makes it a difficult guessing game for batters. Now that he has mastered the 2-seamer, it has made all his other pitches better, allowing them to play up. Each of them minus the curve (0) has a negative run value especially the 4-seamer that once was a liability against RHB.

So far this season, he’s only allowed 3+ runs in 3 of his 13 starts, and 1 or fewer runs in 7 of 13. He’s limited the home run ball only giving up a total of 5 home runs (2 to a red hot Kyle Schwarber in his last start) and as long as he can avoid Schwarber (maybe just walk him next time, haha) then that trend should continue. If he can maintain this deception and limit the long ball, the new-and-improved Walker should be a solid pitcher for the remainder of the season in most matchups, especially in the NL and home starts in the friendly confines of CitiField (health permitting).

If you want more Coolwhip to top off your baseball experience, fantasy or otherwise, you can follow me on Twitter: @CoolwhipRB.