Pittsburgh Pirates’ Neil Walker doing just fine in 2015


Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker had a monstrous 2014 that vaulted him into the elite category in his position.

Last night he broke open the Pirates eventual 4-3 win with a timely two-run double, but to some, he is still finding his way in 2015.

Talk to any Pirates fan, casual or otherwise, and they will likely tell you that they expected much more from Walker than the three home runs and 17 RBI to go along with the .263/.392/.716 slashline that he has currently compiled. Such is life for Walker, who has the added pressure of being born in Pittsburgh, maintaining strong ties to the city and doing it all under the cloud of contentious contract extension talks.

In our quest for answers as to Walker’s perceived so-so performance this year, we can find a few answers in his splits.

Struggles vs left-handed pitching

First, let’s take a look at Walker’s 2015 splits vs left and right-handed pitching

vs RHP171156214414031820935.282.339.429.769
vs LHP33302510010033.

That slash against lefties is ugly even considering the smaller sample size. Not pictured is his highly unlucky .185 .BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against left handed pitching. This is highly abnormal and should even itself out as the year goes on. Yet, fans point to his 2014 splits in which the slash lines were very even (he hit .280/.353/.374 against southpaws in 2014) despite a sap in power (only two of his 23 home runs came against the lefties). Despite not driving the ball well against them, Walker has a much better strikeout rate than he does against right-handers. He simply profiles as a different player against left handed pitching, yet that .BABIP has no choice but to improve, and so will these splits.

Finding the right spot in the order

Walker’s slash lines are pretty consistent across the two batting order positions he spends his time at.

Batting 2nd181882741320502710614.270.341.419.760
Batting 3rd22770000000001.
Batting 4th222293858259011110417.294.344.435.779
Batting 5th22981310010013.375.444.500.944
Batting 6th22770000000001.
Batting 7th11431100000011.333.500.333.833
Batting 9th20220000000001.

The numbers that jump out here are simply the RBI totals. From the fourth position in the order, Walker’s RBI total jumps, which is to be expected. The slash is almost identical when he bats second and shows good slugging percentage in either slot. This is where things become tricky for Clint Hurdle and his staff when creating lineups. With Starling Marte quickly gaining favor as the de facto cleanup hitter, it almost forces Hurdle to use Walker at the two-hole in the order, which limits his RBI chances even though he’s batted very well in that space. Batting him later in the lineup would feel like throwing away chances to create runs. With the continued improvement of Jung Ho Kang in addition to the impressive start from Fancisco Cervelli, Walker seems destined for the two-hole while moonlighting as a cleanup when Marte is struggling.

More from Rum Bunter

When I began looking at Walker’s performance this year, I thought for sure I would reach the same conclusion that many Pittsburgh Pirates fans have already reached. The prevailing notion that his 2014 season was a fluke and that the Pirates should accelerate their plans for life without Neil is flimsy at best. He is not without his warts this year, as he is almost unplayable versus left handed pitching, yet the peripherals suggest that he will maintain a steady bat.

Pittsburgh Pirates fans would be well-served to be patient. The RBIs will come. The batting line is already there. 2014 was no fluke.

Next: Rum Bunter Radio Episode 5 - 'Lockdown'