The 2014 Neil Walker Break Out Season


Jul 22, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 12-7. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Neil Walker made us feel like Rumstradamus with how he has played in 2014.  Back in January, we wrote this article Is A Neil Walker Breakout Coming in 2014?  Let’s take a look at how things have turned out for the Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman who hit his 20th home run yesterday while going 3-for-4 against the Chicago Cubs.

With no other second baseman options for the Pirates, Neil Walker needed to remain healthy in 2014.  Other than that damn appendix and a cranky back, Walker has done more with less opportunities in 2014, playing in 125 games this season.  In 2011, Walker set a career high when he played in 159 games.  He could reach 138 games in 2014 which would be the second most in his career.

But for the penny-wise Bucs, the injury history for Neil Walker looms and seems like something the ball club will use to avoid signing him long term.  Walker compares most with Bret Boone according to Baseball Reference.  It’s hard not to just stare at what Boone did when he was 29 to 34 years young.  It’s a story for another day, but if those comps continue, a five-year deal for Walker could be really hard to argue against.

We cut and pasted the Walker breakout article for you below and looking back on it now seems fun–especially the Josh Harrison slide video.  We never saw Josh Harrison coming.

Neil Walker’s Lunch Lady is a big fan.

The topic du jour last season was Walker couldn’t hit right handed.  The Pittsburgh kid maintained that he hadn’t had enough opportunities.  That claim is supported this year.  In 102 at-bats, Walker has hit .294 and has a 119 wRC+ which is his career best as a right handed hitter.  With 13 games remaining, Walker is approaching his career high and solid 2010 season when he hit .295 in 112 at-bats vs. lefties with three homers and ten doubles.  [Fangraphs Walker vs Left-handers]

Walker wasn’t consistent in 2013 with a regular season .251/.339/.418 triple slash and a career low in runs driven in.  But those career high 16 dingers sparked our interest and he has kept up that homer stroke in 2014 increasing his HR/FB% to 13.1%.  The .279/.351/.468 triple slash thus far in 2014 has been fun to watch.  The 133 wRC+ even more so.

In 2014, Walker is putting up a career low 14.9 strikeout percentage.  We could bore you with all of the other things Pittsburgh’s own is doing at the plate, but you’ve seen it for yourself and the Fangraphs 3.1 WAR and 133 wRC+ shows more than any specific numbers could.

When the Pirates need every win down the stretch, NFW is hitting .333 with a .569 slugging and .992 OPS in 51 September at bats.  So it’s safe to say, the only thing Walker has left to prove is that he can get vengeance for last postseasons ohhhhh-for-the-NLDS.

Let’s trust that happens.


P.S.  Neil Walker is number eight in Win Probabilty Added.  The skinny on WPA (from Fangraphs)  is this:  WPA takes into account the importance of each situation in the game. A walk off home run is going to be weighted more then a home run in a game that has already gotten out of hand. This makes it a great tool for determining how valuable a player was to his team’s win tota



"Neil Walker fascinates me with his athletic abilities.  The thought of a healthy Neil Walker in 2014 is exciting if you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Maybe it’s because the options when Walker isn’t in the Pirates lineup are so damn scary at the moment."

"Last year at the All Star break when Walker was getting healthy, we started looking at age comparable players for the 28-year old Walker.[Click to embiggen the Baseball Reference info block of truth]"

"The name Bret Boone kept coming up.  It’s pretty insane what Boone did as he got into his thirties, but just ignore his age 28 season please.It’s also interesting just how well Walker has performed while learning a position he never played regularly until late in his time at AAA Indianapolis.  If you recall, he was playing all over the diamond, even some first base.  But when the Pirates were forced to give Walk a shot at second base, the team hasn’t looked back.  A great deal of his time has been spent making improvements at the second base position.  We like his defense now.  But the thing that’s next for Walker is a breakout offensive season."

Sep 8, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) falls over St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday (7) as he attempts to turn a double play at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

"It’s not hard to imagine an offensive outburst coming either.  The offense in 2013 was not Walker-esque.  The hot-and-cold of it all was difficult to watch, but those seven homers in September (six in the final nine games) made the postseason push extra special for Pittsburghs’ own.  Everyone knows about the 0-for-the-NLDS, the regular season .251/.339/.418 triple slash and career low runs driven in, but those career high 16 dingers is what sparks some interest for us.Of course for every Bret Boone comp, there is a Brian Roberts comp, or even the Brandon Phillips comp.  But enough about the comparative negative talk.  Well, ok, the hitting right-handed topic is something else everyone loves to concentrate on, but it’s been talked about at length.  We always wonder if that nasty hand laceration impacted Walker from the right side in 2013.  It certainly didn’t help.The numbers that interest us about the Pittsburgh Kid are the .333 wOBA and 114 wRC+ which put him in second baseman top ten company.  The groundballs to second base dropped–hell, the groundballs as a whole dropped.  But with the increase in fly balls, the BABIP also fell to a career low .274 in 2013.Walker has always said he has power to the alleys.  With more fly balls turning into homeruns as he enters his prime, watching 20 plus homers leave the yard for the Pittsburgh Kid is something we can foresee.   The other reasons we can see Walker busting out in 2014 is his improving approach at the plate.  He was always an aggressive hitter, now he’s becoming smarter at the plate with a career best walk rate and also reducing his strikeout percentage to a career low in 2013.So in 2014, expect more home runs from Walker and hopefully extension talks finally get underway as well or the $3.3 million dollar raise Walker received this winter may pale to what he could get next winter with a breakout year."