The switch hitting Neil Walker has been one of the more consistent performers the Pirates have had in recent years. Over the past three seasons he has posted fWARs of 2.6 in 2011, 2.6 in 2012, and 2.7 in 2013. Not surprisingly the 2014 projection models for Walker vary little. ZiPS estimates Walker with a 2.9 WAR in 2014, while Steamer and Oliver have him pegged for 3.0 and 3.1.
With Neil Walker what you see is what you get. He is a solid player that does nothing exceptionally well, but has few holes in his game. His BB% and K% rates are better than league average and have been very stable from year to year. He has more power than a typical 2B, but not enough to fit in the heart of the order. His base running is average. His defense is average. Being average at so many things is what actually makes him an above average 2B. There just aren’t many second basemen with a well rounded set of skills, especially offensive skills. Matt Carpenter and Chase Utley were the only NL second basemen in 2013 that had a higher Weight Runs Created (wRC+) than Neil Walker. One of the few legitimate knocks on Walker is his increasing struggles to hit from the right side. His OPS against left handed pitchers has fallen in each of his four major league seasons. Last year he posted just a .518 OPS vs. southpaws. In 2013 those struggles finally began to cost him starts. Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison both excel against left handed pitching and are legitimate platoon options at second base.
Because Walker has a track record of steady performance he is one of the easiest players to project. I believe he will play slightly better than last season. His BABIP took a significant tumble in 2013. Last year he posted a .274 BABIP which is quite a bit lower than his .312 career BABIP. I expect that to rebound in 2014. However, I do suspect his power numbers will dip. Last year he posted a career best .167 ISO. Most hitters begin seeing big declines in ISO after age 28. The toughest thing to predict with Walker just might be how much he ends up playing. Will manager Clint Hurdle platoon him more in 2014? And can Walker stay healthy? He has a history of back troubles.
Without further ado, here are the final estimations I’m using as inputs for Wahoo’s on First WAR Calculator to estimate the 2014 WAR for Neil Walker:
AVG – .276
OBP – .343
SLG – .425
Plate Appearances – 585
Games – 140
Position – 2B
Defense – 4 (average)
Base Running – 3 (average)
And the verdict for Neil Walker 2014 WAR is… 3.2