COLUMN: Neil Walker is not the answer

Did you know former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker went to Pine-Richland?

Yeah. That’s news to me as well.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported yesterday that the Pittsburgh Pirates have some level of interest in re-signing Walker.

And while that may make for a good feel-good story of the hometown kid coming back to town, the thought of bringing Walker back to town is a terrible one.

What’s the point?

The Pittsburgh Pirates front office let’s everyone know time and time again that the goal is to win a World Series.

This move doesn’t make the team any better unless Walker comes in as a bench guy in a strict platoon situation.

With the Jung Ho Kang situation still up in the air, the Bucs do need another infielder. And it makes a ton of sense to find someone that can platoon with David Freese at third base. Whether that be Walker or Josh Harrison if Walker plays second then fine.

But the goal is to make the team better, not bring in another completely average player.

Make no mistake about it, Walker is nothing more than an average MLB player. Just because he’s from Pittsburgh doesn’t make him anything more than that. I know fans liked him, but the reality is that Walker isn’t going to help this team improve much.

He’s not going to be cheap either. If the Pirates are going to spend some money it would be nice to see them shell it out on someone with talent that can make the team better.

What’s Walker going to get? Two or three years in the $20 million range? How does that make any sense for the Pirates?

If they are looking to just bring in a body to wear a uniform, there are plenty of cheaper options out there.

Lack of Production

When Walker was first dealt, judging by the fan reaction, you would have thought the Pittsburgh Pirates were sending Mike Trout away.

But let’s just keep this in mind.

In seven years in a Pirates uniform Walker slashed .272/.338/.431. Not terrible by any means, but also nothing star-worthy either.

In a Pirates uniform, Walker hit over .280 just once (.296 in 2010). He hit over 16 homers in a season just once (23 in 2014) and drove in more than 80 runs just once (83 in 2011).

He was never this great run producer in the middle of the Bucs order that people make him out to be.

Walker did have a nice 2016 season with the Mets in which he put up a .823 OPS, which was a career high, and hit 23 homers, which matched his career high of 2014. But that season was cut short due to injury as Walker drove in only 55 runs in 113 games.

Splits

If the Bucs re-sign Walker, he simply can’t play against left-handed pitching.

Period.

Throughout his career Walker has put up a .803 OPS against right-handed pitching but only a .691 mark against southpaws. He also has hit only 14 career homers in 965 plate appearances with a left-handed pitcher on the mound. He also isn’t showing much improvement against southpaws. While Walker didn’t have a terrible season against lefties in 2016, he posted a .575 OPS in 2015 and just a .610 OPS last season.

That may make him attractive if and only if he came into a strict platoon situation.

Injury/Defense

One of the biggest problems with Walker is his injury history. He’s played in over 140 games just once (151 in 2014) in nine MLB seasons. Even in the last two seasons outside of Pittsburgh, Walker managed to play in just 113 and 111 games. You just can’t count on him being on the field. It’s sad to say, but that’s the reality of the situation. And where is the ideal position to play a 32-year old Walker?

He’s never been a great defensive second baseman. Sure he will make the plays hit right at him, but he’s more of a liability than anything in the field. Look at Walker’s Defensive Runs Saved Above Average. Last season he was 12 runs below average. By comparrison, last season Harrison was 11 runs above average at second base.

That’s just another reason why the Pittsburgh Pirates can’t sign Walker and play him every day at second base.

Overview

I know people like Walker, but the notion of re-signing him is ridiculous, unless he is a platoon guy who comes cheap. He just doesn’t make this team better in any aspect of the game.

The Pirates didn’t get better by trading Walker away and they won’t get better by bringing him back.

But hey, he’s from Pittsburgh right? That should count for something. That and the 2.3 billion times we could hear that Walker went to Pine-Richland next season could make signing him completely worth it.

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.

  • JPksu

    Couldn’t agree more. Freese is nothing more than a platoon player against lefties so it might seem ok BUT with the salary of Freese and Walker the Pirates could sign Moustakas.

    • redrage97

      Moustakas has the QO tag and would have a longer and more expensive contract, unless the FO gets drunk and does up a contract i don’t see this happening

  • redrage97

    Walker is a bit above average i’d say who has managed an average of about 2.25 WAR/year over 9 seasons (including his shortened 17 game season his first mlb action) with a slightly above average slash and some pop that plays acceptable defense. I dont see any reason to expect less next season.

    To be fair.. his RBI/Run Totals are a bit subjective… playing with generally poor teams but still fairly decent considering he is just “an average player”

    His deficiencies are plain as day, you nailed it. Injuries and Defense. A healthy Walker will get you 20HRs slightly better defense and 80 RBIs possible silver slugger candidate. One who has what seems to be life long back troubles that are nagging him during the season will get you what we’re used to seeing.

    I do agree, it isn’t an answer to the teams problems. over all it would probably even out in terms of wins with Walkers better bat and freese’s better defense and using freese/s-rod as bench players for Bell and who ever is at third.

    I’d still like to see Neil back in the black and gold though. Frankly there are not a lot of options out there in free agency to boost third base. Nunez is still my top choice but again more of a side grade but with more versatility.

    • Bobby Ewing

      Good god can we stop nitpicking on his defense

      • redrage97

        It isn’t nit picking he is a major downgrade at second defensively compared to Harrison.

        His bat may make up the difference though.

      • Pirates Breakdown

        Hate to break it to you, but defense is important

  • Bobby Ewing

    I despise this article and it’s writer