Sep 22, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) makes a diving attempt for a fly ball in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Neil Walker has always been a Pittsburgh Pirates crowd favorite mostly because of the fact that he grew up in the area and everyone likes rooting for their hometown guy.
Unfortunately, Walker — by most baseball standards — has been a disappointment since he made his major league debut Sept. 1, 2009. Walker’s career numbers are basicallyaverage for a second baseman. He has a .273 career batting average with 77 home runs and an OBP of .340 in five-plus seasons.
However, Walker finally broke out in 2014 and posted his best year. Walker turned out to be one of the best second baseman in all of baseball and arguable the best at his position in the National League. Walker finished third in MLB with an .809 OPS. He also posted a 3.7 WAR according to FanGraphs. Besides players like Robinson Cano — baseball’s best 2B — and Jose Altuve — who led all of baseball with 225 hits and a .341 average, Walker was right up with anyone else in the discussion for third best at the position. He clubbed out a respectable 23 home runs and drove in 76 runs. Those numbers would be great for a player at any position and are outstanding for a middle infielder. Walker has now displayed he can be a reliable hitter and his defense is good enough to keep him at second.
Now with expectations on the rise, Walker’s next challenge is staying consistent. Walker can completely change the way teams approach the Pirates if he can post similar numbers next season. FanGraphs projects Walker to stay about the same in 2015. Usually, sabermetricians predict players to fall off, but Walker is projected to post a .273 average, score 71 runs and drive in 74 RBI.
The Pirates could have a very tough lineup if Walker does meet expectations, Josh Harrison continues to impress and Pedro Alvarez shakes off last season’s struggles. There is no concern with Andrew McCutchen and if one other player exceeds hopes, the Pirates will have one of the better offenses in the N.L.