Christian Walker Is Very Good at Baseball


Diamondbacks 1B Christian Walker; Photo via Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Looking at the title, one might think, “Wow, this guy is stupid!” or “Who is Christian Walker?” I did not want any flashy wordplay in the title to describe Walker. He is simply very good at baseball.


Christian Walker was drafted by the Orioles in the 4th round of the 2012 MLB draft out of South Carolina. He was dominant during his time at SC, hitting 21 HRs and maintaining an OPS of over .980 through his two years. Walker was also seen as someone who could be a high-OBP guy with low strikeout numbers. He had 87 walks with just 54 strikeouts across his 136 games in college. Walker became a big-time prospect for the O’s and was consistently among their top 20 prospects, climbing as high as the 3rd best in the O’s system. However, Christian ended up not panning out in Baltimore, appearing in only 13 major league games for them. He was placed on waivers and spent time in the Reds and Braves minor league systems before ending up with the Diamondbacks. Walker was barely up in the Majors in 2017 and 2018, as he played 48 games and hit just .180 with an OPS+ of 89 across those two seasons.


In 2019, the then 28-year-old Walker was finally given a full chance to play in the majors and was a solid enough player for the Diamondbacks.


Christian Walker's 2019 Stats:

152 Games

.259 BA

.348 OBP

.476 SLG

.825 OPS

29 HRs

25.7% K%

11.1% BB%

3.2 fWAR

111 wRC+


Looking at these baseline stats, Walker was a solid power guy who could walk a lot as well. Diving deeper into the numbers, Walker mashed sinkers that year, with a +10 run value versus that pitch. However, he struggled against fastballs, sliders, changeups, and cutters, as he posted a negative run value against all of those pitches. Other important stats to note for later are Walker's way-below-average K% and Whiff% from his first year in the desert.


Going into 2020, Walker was still the starting 1B for a bad D-backs team. In the Covid-shortened year, Walker continued to be a very solid bat and put up good baseline numbers again.


Christian Walker's 2020 Stats:

57 Games

.271 BA

.333 OBP

.459 SLG

.792 OPS

7 HRs

20.7% K%

7.8% BB%

0.8 fWAR

110 wRC+


One thing to notice here is the decrease in both K% and BB%, which led to more balls in play. This led to a decrease in barrel rate, as he was not hitting the ball as hard as the previous season. He was also downright awful against fastballs this year with a -8 run value and slugged just .237 against them. This could be a result of him swinging more often so he was making less solid contact. Outside of that, he was roughly average against almost all other pitches except sliders in which he had a positive 7 run value. While 2020 was similar to 2019 on the surface level, there was some concern going into 2021 due to Walker’s massive struggle against fastballs.


In 2021, Christian Walker was awful, and he was drug to the end of the majors. This led many to consider him one more bad year away from being completely out of the game of baseball.


Christian Walker's 2021 Stats:

115 Games

.244 BA

.315 OBP

.382 SLG

.696 OPS

10 HRs

23.5% K%

8.5% BB%

0.4 fWAR

87 wRC+


These baseline numbers are awful, but going to the advanced stats is not much better. He dropped down at least 30 percentiles in the following stats: xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, xISO, xOBP, Brl, Brl%, K%, and BB%. Looking at how he was against certain pitches, he continued to be bad against fastballs but was even worse against sliders in 2021. In 2020 he hit .333 against 197 sliders. That dropped all the way to .175 against 405 sliders in 2021. He was bad against the 2 most common pitches thrown to him. Not what you want to see. Walker was also swinging at more pitches than ever this year, with an 80.7% zone swing rate, up 6 percent from 2020. He also had a 41.7% First Pitch Swing%, which was a 10% increase from the previous year. Walker was swinging more than ever and was not good at it. This free-swinging attitude led to a solid enough average, but it killed his OPS because he produced much less power and lower walk numbers. As mentioned before, he was one year away from being out of baseball. Headed into 2022, the now 31-year-old Walker needed to ball out to keep his job.


Christian Walker’s 2022 Stats as of 10/4:

159 games

.238 BA

.324 OBP

.475 SLG

.799 OPS

36 HRs

19.7% K%

10.3% BB%

4.1 fWAR

121 wRC+


Walker has been elite so far this year based on the basic numbers, but looking into his advanced stats reveals he has been unbelievable. Walker is in the 90th percentile or higher in the following: xwOBA, xSLG, xISO, Barrels, and Outs Above Average. He is in the 70th to 89th percentile in the following: xOBP, Barrel%, Exit Velo, Max Exit Velo, Hard Hit%, BB%, and Chase Rate. Those are a lot of numbers, but to simplify it, he is hitting the ball very hard and frequently hits the barrel of the bat, which is leading to very high expected stats. Walker has put together an elite season all around, as the aforementioned stats are up as much as 70 percentiles. The main reason that Walker has been mashing is that he is killing fastballs, sliders, and curveballs. 63.4% of the pitches that Walker has seen are those pitches, and he has produced positive run values against each. Walker has also been walking more and striking out less this season compared to 2021. The main reason for this is that he is swinging a lot less and is waiting for his pitch. In 2022, his Zone Swing% is down 13 percent, his First Pitch Swing% is down 12 percent, and his Swing% is down almost 10 percent compared to last season.


It is clear to see that Walker has been an outstanding player this season, and it came at the perfect time. Despite his dreadful 2021 season, Walker has changed his approach at the plate and is hitting the right pitches, which has led to massive success. Walker's quick turnaround is commendable, as is Walker himself. In conclusion, Christian Walker is very good at baseball, and you should know that.



Sources:


Baseball-Reference.com

BaseballSavant.com

Fangraphs.com

MLB.com


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