Taijuan Walker Looked Like The Top Of The Rotation Pitcher He Was Once Thought To Be
When the Mets signed Taijuan Walker, the expectation was when everyone was healthy, he was going to be the team’s fifth starter. If his first start of the season was any indication, Walker is going to be much more than that.
Before delving into his first start as a member of the New York Mets, it is important to start with Walker the prospect. Before Walker was called up by the Seattle Mariners in 2013, he was a rated as a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.
John Sickels, then of Minor League Baseball, wrote Walker was in the conversation for “Best Pitching Prospect in Baseball honors.” Fangraphs said Walker “has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter.” Bleacher Report said “If you were to build a prototype for what you want in a potential No. 1 starter, Taijuan Walker would hit all the marks.” Baseball Prospectus said:
He produces seemingly effortless 92-98 mph velocity from his strong frame, presenting it to hitters on a steep downward plane. His cutter––which can touch 93 mph––is another potential plus-plus pitch; it has hard, short break with some late tilt, and he’ll use it as a weapon against both left- and right-handed hitters.
All told, the expectation was Walker was going to be a top of the rotation pitcher. It didn’t happen due to a combination of his being rushed to the majors and his dealing with injuries. In many ways, that made his 2020 season very important in that he had to prove he could stay healthy and that he could stick as a starter. By and large, he did that and more.
In 2020, Walker looked lack a solid middle to back end of the rotation starter. For a Mets team loaded with top of the rotation talent, this made New York a perfect landing spot for Walker. What no one really considered was what if Walker could be more than he has shown in recent years.
Notably, Walker has been about a five inning pitcher, but that was partially a function of the injuries. The same could also be said about his velocity dipping to the low 90s. On that point, Walker is a 28 year old pitcher reaching his prime, and he is a player who is another year away from injuries. It is very possible he is finally healthy again, and he is ready to pick up where his career left off before his first major injury.
Taijuan Walker, 96mph Fastball (foul) and 87mph Slider (Swinging K), Individual Pitches + Overlay pic.twitter.com/IUAc9lyxmF
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 8, 2021
Yesterday, Walker was throwing consistently in the mid to upper 90s. His average velocity was 95.4 MPH which is over 2 MPH faster than he threw last year. In fact, Walker hasn’t averaged 95 with his fastball since 2014. As noted by Michael Mayer of MMO, Walker hit 97 MPH with his fastball, a mark Walker had not hit in four years.
We also saw Walker was tighter with his release points. More than that, we saw Walker was able to get more spin on all of his breaking pitches. The end result was a pitcher who was more difficult to pick up. With him pitching like that, the Marlins went hitless through the first 4.1 innings, and when the Marlins did make contact, Walker generated weaker contact.
This should come as no surprise for two reasons. First, as noted, he’s healthy. Second, as noted in an interview with Fangraphs, Walker has been working at Driveline to see how analytics could help make him a better pitcher. He used the analytics to hone his pitching and get the most out of his talent.
In terms of his first start with the Mets, we saw what health and increased work on his craft could do for him. The Walker we saw yesterday did not look like the back end of the rotation starter we all thought the Mets were getting when he signed a free agent contract. Rather, Walker looked like the top of the rotation pitcher many expected him to be when he was first called up to the majors.
This is a very exciting development for Walker and the New York Mets. With more games like this under his belt, the sky is the limit for both Walker and the Mets chances of winning the World Series in 2021.