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2017 Arizona Diamondbacks Review: #30, Christian Walker

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Christian Walker could pinch hit, rest Goldy, and platoon in left field.

Who plays in the shadows behind Paul Goldschmidt?
Who plays in the shadows behind Paul Goldschmidt?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Date of birth: March 28, 1991
  • 2017 line: 11 games, 15 PA, .250/.400/.833 = 1.233 OPS
  • 2017 value: 0.1 bWAR
  • 2017 salary: minimum, arbitration starts 2020
  • SnakePit rating: 4.58

2017 analysis

Hitting is Christian Walker’s strength.

In the AAA Pacific Coast League (PCL), Christian Walker ranked #6 in OPS, and won the most valuable player award. Impressive! He was the first PCL player since Mark Trumbo to hit 30+ homers, 100+ RBIs, and score 100+ runs. More impressive! His line was 133 games, 592 PA, .309/.382/.597= .980 OPS, which was his best season by far. His outstanding hitting earned him a September call-up.

In the Majors (regular season), he had 11 PAs as a pinch hitter and played one complete game as first baseman. He hit a homer against the Marlins (WPA of 13%) that put the D-backs down by only one run. He led off the ninth inning against the Royals with a double (WPA of 20%) putting the tying run (himself) in scoring position.

In the playoffs, he made the most of his two PA’s with a hit and a hit by pitch. He had a memorable season.

2018 prospects

Christian Walker has played two positions, first base and left field. At first glance, his path to the Majors is blocked by Paul Goldschmidt at first and Yasmany Tomas in left.

How does his defense compare to Goldschmidt and Tomas? My preferred comparisons would be Inside Edge or Advanced Fielding stats found in Fangraphs. Unfortunately, neither captured more than 10 plays by Walker. Instead, let’s look at fielding percentage and range factor (putouts plus assists) per 9 innings.

Let’s look at first base. Goldschmidt’s outstanding offense and defense at first base place him among the best in the Majors. Nevertheless, in 2017 Paul Goldschmidt did not start in 10 games (7 were rest days and 3 he entered in the eighth or ninth inning). I predict 12 non-start days next season. Who will play first base in those games?

The following chart compares defense at first base for Walker and Goldschmidt.

Defense at First Base

Player Position Year Level Innings Range Factor Fielding Percent
Player Position Year Level Innings Range Factor Fielding Percent
Paul Goldschmidt First base 2011 AA 871 9.76 0.996
Christian Walker First Base 2014 AA 794 9.5 0.989

Defensively at first base, Walker at the AA level was nearly as good as Goldschmidt at the AA level. Although Walker’s development is a few years behind Goldschmidt, Walker could play first base well enough to give Goldschmidt rest days when needed.

Let’s look at left field. Tomas has struggled defensively. The following chart compares defense in left field for Walker and Tomas.

Defense in Left Field

Player Position Year Level Innings Range Factor Fielding Percent
Player Position Year Level Innings Range Factor Fielding Percent
Yasmany Tomas Left Field 2016 Majors 444.67 1.35 0.959
Christian Walker Left Field 2016 AAA 792.67 1.5 0.978

Defensively in left field, Walker looks better than Tomas in range and fielding percentage. That is not too surprising. In Walker’s last two minor-league seasons, he played a total of 833 innings at left field. Ron Johnson, coach of Norfolk Tides, said that Christian Walker picks good routes, breaks well, and has good instincts. Christian Walker said he spent a lot of time and energy perfecting left field [in AAA], just like he did for first base. Although mastering left field at the Majors level (and especially Chase Field) will take additional time and energy, he could develop into an above average defender in left field.

These comparisons reveal a possible bench role. It would include three aspects.

  • Pinch Hitter: In September and in the playoffs, he demonstrated his high value as a pinch hitter.
  • Play First Base: In addition to playing first base on Goldschmidt’s rest days, he could play first base in late innings when the game outcome is no longer in doubt.
  • Platoon in Left Field: Tomas and Walker could platoon in left field. Who plays each game could be based on the pitching match-ups and who is riding a hot hitting streak. Whoever is on the bench would be a great available option as pinch hitter.

Does this bench role for Christian Walker make sense after the D-backs exercised their option to keep Daniel Descalso? Two questions are important - does Descalso block Walker, and which player is best at left field and first base?

Descalso adds needed depth at second base, third base, and shortstop because at those positions the D-backs’ WAA ranked 20th/21st in the Majors. Strengthening that weakness would fully justify a bench role for Descalso. Therefore, keeping Descalso does not block Walker’s bench role.

Let’s compare Descalso and Walker. The following chart compares offense in 2017. It shows Christian Walker as the better hitter.

OBP and OPS

Player Level/Year OBP OPS
Player Level/Year OBP OPS
Daniel Descalso Majors/2017 0.330 0.727
Christian Walker Majors/2017 0.440 1.233
Daniel Descalso Playoffs/2017 .500/.600 1.933/1.500
Christian Walker Playoffs/2017 1.000 2.000

The following chart compares defense in left field and at first base. It shows Christian Walker as the better defender.

Range Factor Per 9 Innings

Player Level/Year Left Field First Base
Player Level/Year Left Field First Base
Daniel Descalso Majors/2017 0.9 9.1
Christian Walker Majors/2017 11.0
Christian Walker AAA/2017 9.4
Christian Walker AAA/2016 1.5

Because these comparisons show Christian Walker compares favorably to Daniel Descalso in offense and defense, and because Descalso has a complimentary bench role, a bench role for Christian Walker makes sense.