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Season Preview: Starting Pitcher to Watch

Taijuan Walker is the guy to watch in the starting rotation in 2023.

MLB: FEB 17 Phillies Spring Training Workout Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the dust settled on the 2022 season, the Phillies were left with a pretty clear picture of where they need to improve to make the final step from National League Champions to a party on Broad Street. This winter, the front office brought in Taijuan Walker to address one of those areas of improvement: The starting rotation.

Walker is no stranger to the National League East, as he’s coming from our friends up 95 in New York. In his two seasons with the Mets, he put together two respectable campaigns and even made his first All Star appearance. However, in both seasons he declined once he reached the second half — a concern that definitely needs to be closely watched. Now, he’s looking to take the next step forward with the Phillies.

In his introduction press conference, Walker talked about the evolution of his game, and how he’s betting on himself to keep improving. The Phillies are betting on him, too.

Since 2016, perhaps no team has invested as much in analytics as the Phillies — a fact that might make a huge difference in Walker’s potential for growth, especially considering he recently added a near-elite cutter to his already-diverse arsenal. With a new environment, new coaches, a new(ish) pitch, and a strong analytics department, overall individual improvement is absolutely possible.

A major factor for his success is going to be how he uses, and commands, the new splitter. Last year, he nearly doubled the use of the pitch from 2021, and had a ton of success.

Gearing up for 2023, Walker made his first start of the spring against the Tigers. In 2.1 innings, he gave up 4 hits and 2 earned runs and struck out 2. He’s since left camp to represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

The great thing for Walker is that he doesn’t need to be the next Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, or even Ranger Suarez. The Phillies already have a very solid top 3 in the rotation that just took them to the World Series. Even with a battle for the fifth starter spot and questions surrounding the current state of superstar prospect Andrew Painter’s elbow, the pressure to perform isn’t insurmountable for Taijuan Walker. He just needs to be better than what the Phillies got from Kyle Gibson last year — a feat that’s absolutely doable. Even only taking into consideration the most basic stats, Walker is at minimum a minor upgrade.

Gibson’s 2022: 10-8, 5.05 ERA, 81 ERA+, 167.2 IP, 94 ER, 24 HR, 144 K, 1.336 WHIP

Walker’s 2022: 12-5, 3.49 ERA, 111 ERA+, 157.1 IP, 61 ER, 15 HR, 132 K, 1.195 WHIP

In the three-headed monster that is the NL East, even a few extra wins could be the difference between winning the division and being the second, or even third, Wild Card. Walker is the guy to watch in the rotation who could get them those few extra wins.