What’s Wrong With Taijuan Walker?


Looking at the team pitching totals for starters right now isn’t fun if you’re a M’s fan. They currently sport the 3rd worst earned run average in baseball at 5.48, and are 9th in walks/hits per inning at 1.40. That’s not good.

Right now the worst ERA on the team belongs to Taijuan Walker at 17. But a quick look at peripheral stats shows us that Walkers’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) currently sits at a whopping .483. In his 38 innings last year, his BABIP was only .282. So this year’s number is very likely to come down, and as more of those balls put into play are turned into outs, his ERA will come down as well. But that’s not the whole story. What else is there? His Strand rate is also out of whack currently listed at 38% with 66% being his average. Again, reason for optimism as fewer runners that reach base should be scoring on him going forward.  But let’s take a look through his PitchFx data and see what else we can find.

There are warning lights around his K% and BB% rates. He’s currently striking out hitters at the same rate that he’s walking them 14% for both. That’s not good. So let’s look at what he’s throwing and how successful he’s been with it.

Fastball: 58%
Split: 21%
Cutter: 14%
Curve: 7%
Two-Seam: 1%

So we can see that he’s leaning heavily on his fastball and using his Split at the same rate as his Cutter and Curve. But how effective has he been with them? We’ll turn to FanGraphs Pitch Values for this (where a score of zero is average, with negative scores being below average and positive scores being above average.)

Fastball: -1.84
Split: -2.42
Cutter: .54
Curve: -1.24
Two-Seam: -.36

Ouch. We can see here that not much of what he’s been throwing has been working. He’s seen limited success with the Cutter, but the two pitches he’s been relying on, the Fastball and the Split haven’t fared as well.

Let’s take a closer look at the pitches and see what differences we can find in them from last year’s results. First let’s look at average velocity and see how this year’s numbers compare (in MPH).

Fastball: -.9
Split: +.1
Cutter: -1.2
Curve: -1.6
(He didn’t throw a two-seamer last year so we leave that one out.)

We can see that his velocity is down pretty much across the board especially on his curve. But velocity isn’t the only component of a pitch. How about Movement? Here is his pitch movement listed by Year: Horizontal, Vertical

Fastball: 2014: -4.2, 8.4 2015: -4.8, 9.1
Split: 2014: -6.8, 2.6 2015: -7.5, 3.5
Cutter: 2014: 1.8, 6.4 2015: 1.2, 7.0
Curve: 2014: 9, -6.1 2015: 7.6, -6.8

A couple of things that we can see from this is that his Fastball, Split, and Cutter are all not dropping as much as last year, they’re staying a little higher up in the zone.
So if we combine a decrease in velocity and the fact that the pitches he’s throwing the most often are staying up in the zone; it’s a little easier to see why Walker has been having trouble.

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It is important to remember though that we’re not even out of April yet, and this is only 2 starts worth of data. Walker will make some adjustments, and the poor luck that he’s been having will correct itself. He’s not going to pitch this way all season.

Oh, one more thing to remember. He’s 22 years old. Growing pains are to be expected.

Walker will get the ball on Tuesday night at Safeco Field against the Houston Astros. Tai has had plenty of success against the Astros during his young career, and hopefully a strong outing tonight will get him back on track.

Next: 5 Possible Replacements for Mariners’ Closer Fernando Rodney

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