After exploding in April, hitting .301 with 3 HR, 14 RBI and 17 R, the fantasy world got excited about what could be possible for the Pirates’ Neil Walker. He continue to drive in runs for the first few months (8 HR, 59 RBI in the first half), but things ultimately slowed down. He had just 24 RBI in the second half of the season, leaving fantasy owners left to wonder which player they should expect in 2012?
Is the real Neil Walker the one who looked like he could emerge as an elite 2B over the first three months? Or should owners expect more of what we saw in the second half (.285, 4 HR, 24 RBI), which may be more inline with what his history would indicate?
Before we answer that question let’s first look at his season as a whole:
596 At Bats
.273 Batting Average (163 Hits)
12 Home Runs
9 Stolen Bases
.334 On Base Percentage
.408 Slugging Percentage
.315 Batting Average on Balls in Play
The fact of the matter is that the RBI came in large part because the Pirates needed Walkerto be hitting in the middle of the order. He spent 136 AB hitting third, 248 hitting fourth and 118 hitting fifth. That helped him get 155 AB with runners in scoring position. It’s not even that he was overly successful in those opportunities (.271, 67 RBI), but the fact that he was getting them yielded improved results.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, however. Does Walker really have the makeup to be hitting in the middle of a lineup? He doesn’t bring much power, something that is generally at the top of the list when you are looking for a middle of the order presence. Over his minor league career he hit 71 HR in 2,601 AB (36 HR in 1,093 AB at Triple-A). In other words, he doesn’t fit the bill.
In lieu of that, a high average player could sometimes be seen hitting third (think someone similar to Edgar Martinez). However, it’s not like Walker has shown any indication that he can even maintain a .300+ average.
Over his minor league career he hit just .273, matching last season’s mark. For someone without power, a 16.9% strikeout rate isn’t ideal to maintaining an elite average. Sure, maybe he can post a slightly better BABIP (he posted a .340 mark in 426 AB in ’10), but even that yielded just a .296 average. Go into the season expecting a .280 average, max.
Then, you have the changes in the Pirates lineup. Last season the team needed Walker in the middle of the order because they had few other options. This season things are a little bit different. Andrew McCutchen, who saw time in the leadoff spot last season, should now become a fixture in the third hole thanks to the presence of Jose Tabata. While Casey McGahee struggled last season in Milwaukee, he certainly projects as more of a power threat than Walker. The same could be said for Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones, giving the Pirates ample options to give the first crack in the four and five slots.
That leaves Walker to slide into his more natural fit of the second spot of the order. Could he end up hitting lower in the lineup if people struggle? Absolutely, but it’s impossible to go into the year anticipating it.
The means we are going to see significantly less RBI opportunities, and, while he may score a few more runs, it’s hardly enough. At the end of the day we are looking at a player who will likely hit 15 HR or less, struggle to steal bases and hit under .290. Throw in little to no RBI upside and is there anything to get excited about?
He’s a middle infielder in deeper formats and nothing more than a bench option in shallower leagues.
What are your thoughts ofWalker? Is he a player you are targeting for 2012? What upside do you think he has?
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Make sure to check out our 2012 projections: