I understand why the Phillies signed Taijuan Walker. They needed a veteran starter for the rotation, and he was considered one of the best options out there, especially since he didn’t have a qualifying offer attached to him.
The Phillies paid a premium to avoid surrendering more draft picks. You will probably hear a lot about Taijuan Walker's splitter, and for good reason. The instant analysis @TheAthleticMLB: https://t.co/klsLMk7lGa— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) December 7, 2022
He’s durable and has put up solid overall numbers, and at first glance it seems like he should be one of the better fourth starters in the league.
Still, I’m a bit worried.
Some of that is familiarity, as he’s made quite a few starts against the Phillies the past couple of years, and the results have been kind of meh. But I read this article from a Mets site, and while I’ll take any Mets fan’s perspective with a grain of salt, there are some good points raised regarding Walker’s underlying numbers, and how he might have been heavily dependent on luck.
The Mets should be thankful that he was more lucky than good in his two seasons in Flushing, especially last year. He finished at the 28th percentile in average exit velocity, 26th percentile in hard hit percentage (not a good sign with the shift being banned for next season), and 30th percentile in whiff rate (won’t be good if he has to face the Mets in the last two weeks of the season).
Walker has also been much worse in the second half of the season over the past two years. In 2021, he absolutely tanked after the All-Star break, putting up an 0-8 record with a 7.13 ERA. He wasn’t quite as bad in the second half of 2022, but his 4.80 ERA was over two points higher than his number in the first half. If the Phillies wanted a veteran who might pitch poorly down the stretch, they could have just brought back Kyle Gibson.
Hey, we can just take Baseball Savant’s word for it:
Some suspect that his second half struggles in 2021 weren’t just due to fatigue or other factors:
June 2021 is when baseball began to more closely scrutinize pitchers for use of foreign substances. It’s encouraging that he was improved in 2022, but that chart still gives me pause.
Before you start to worry too much, keep in mind that three years ago, I was not pleased with the Zack Wheeler signing. I thought the Phillies paid top-of-the-rotation money to a guy who had never shown he was more than a decent mid-rotation pitcher.
For the Phillies’ sake, let's hope that I’m just really bad at predicting future success for former Mets starters.