Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Neil Walker’s Defensive Decline Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Neil Walker‘s defense has been a much discussed topic for some time now. Walker’s defensive metrics slipped considerably in 2014 providing his critics plenty of ammunition to declare him a defensive liability at second base. There is no question that Walker’s value comes from his offensive skills. He is one of the top offensive second basemen in baseball. He even won a Silver Slugger Award last season. But the best that could be said about Walker’s defense is that he plays the second base position adequately. The first three seasons of his career he graded out as slightly below average. In 2013 Walker showed marked improvement defensively, posting a +9 defensive runs saved (DRS). It was the first time in his career he posted a positive DRS. But the improved defense seemingly disappeared in 2014, and that caused the grumbling over his poor defense to grow louder.
There is no denying that the final defensive numbers for Walker were very poor in 2014. But what never seems to be mentioned is the poor performance was almost entirely crammed into the first quarter of the season. Walker was carrying a -7 DRS as late as May 17th. He finished the season at a -2. Saberbucs.net documented Walker’s UZR at -6.1 on May 13th. Walker finished the season with a -6.8 UZR. That means that over the last 120 games of the season Walker was a very respectable +5 DRS with a -0.7 UZR. If these were offensive stats no one would be saying his skills were declining. They would simply say he got off to a bad start. Neil Walker will never be a great defender at second base, but he can still play the position as adequately as he did the first four years of his career. All the talk of Walker’s declining defense is either an exaggeration or just plain false.

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