Neil Walker was the Pittsburgh Pirates primary second baseman from 2010 to 2015. In those six seasons, he established himself as the best offensive second baseman in the team’s history.
From 2010 to 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates used a homegrown talent at second base. And when I say homegrown, I don’t just mean drafted and developed in the Pirates farm system. Neil Walker was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He eventually became one of the best second basemen in team history, but the question I want to ask is was he the best offensive second baseman the Pittsburgh Pirates ever had?
Walker, who was originally drafted as a catcher and moved to third base before landing at his final position of second base, made his debut in 2009, but received just 40 plate appearances, and didn’t do all that well. But during his 2010 rookie season, Walker was one of the standout rookies of that year.
He opened the decade batting .290/.349/.462 with a 121 wRC+ and a dozen home runs. His wRC+ was only surpassed by the National League Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, and the 2nd place finisher Jason Heyward (min. 300 plate appearances).
After that season, the switch hitting middle infielder solidified himself as a solid middle of the order presence for the Pirates up until 2015. From 2011 to 2015, Walker put up a line that consisted of a .269 batting average, .337 OBP, and .429 slugging percentage. That accumulated to a 113 OPS+ and wRC+. Walker also showed some pretty decent power for a second baseman. From 2013 to 2015, Walker totaled 55 long balls, including 16 in both 2013 and 2015, and 23 in 2014. Robinson Cano and Brian Dozier, two well known names, and All-Stars that were considered top tier second baseman power hitters, were the only two players to have hit more long balls than Walker.
In the first half of the decade, Walker was one of the more under the radar second basemen in the league. The Pittsburgh Kid hit .273/.338/.433 with a 115 wRC+. Walker’s wRC+ was top four among all second basemen, or even the third highest if you want to consider Ben Zobrist more of a utility man than a true second basemen. Dustin Pedroia only was 2% better than Walker offensively. With 93 home runs, Walker was 4th among all primary second basemen. He was also 6th in wOBA at .337. In comparison, three time American League All-Star Ian Kinsler was just one point ahead of Walker at .338.
Now I’ve established how underrated Walker is throughout his Pittsburgh Pirates tenure, so how does he stack up to other Bucco second basemen? Is he the best out of all of them in the batter’s box? Well I’d definitely agree that he is the best pure second basemen in Pirates history. What I mean is that Walker is the best Pirates’ second baseman who has strictly played second base in his tenure.
Walker is 2nd in wRC+ home runs, and 4th in OPS (min. 2000 plate appearances). But in wRC+, George Grantham had the highest wRC+ at 131, but he played first base in the first two years with the Pirates in 1925 and 1926, and split time at second and first in his last year with the Pirates in 1931. Grantham is also first in wOBA (.412). Another player who ranks higher than Walker in wOBA is Dots Miller, but he played over 40% of his innings in the field at first base. Walker might be second in home runs, only being surpassed by Bill Mazeroski, but Maz averaged a home run every .064 games and stepped to the plate 8379 times in a Pirate uniform. Walker on the other hand averaged a home run every .111 games, and had a well higher isolated slugging than Mazeroski did (.107 to .159).
Walker, on the other hand, played all but 109 innings at second base during his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. If you eliminate both Grantham and Miller, Walker is first in wRC+, isolated slugging percentage, third in wOBA, and first in OPS. I think it’s pretty accurate to say that Walker is the best offensive primary second baseman the Pittsburgh Pirates ever had.