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2018 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #35, Taijuan Walker

It was going swimmingly well until...

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

2018 rating: 3.52

2017 rating: 6.70

Difference: -3.18

2018 salary: $4,825,000

2018 performance: 3 GS, 0-0, 13.0 IP, 3.46 ERA, 128 ERA+, 9/5 K/BB, 1.538 WHIP

2019 status: 2nd year arbitration eligible

Today’s objective? Write more paragraphs than Taijuan Walker had starts during the 2018 regular season. The first, and arguably largest, trade that Mike Hazen has swung during his tenure as GM with the Arizona Diamondbacks is the one that brought Taijuan over from the Seattle Mariners. Sure, there was the 2017 midseason trade for J.D. Martinez, but that was only a rental which saw minor league depth filler being sent back to the Detroit Tigers in return.

It isn’t going as well as hoped after two seasons. Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and Zac Curtis were there return for Seattle while Walker was packaged with Ketel Marte to Arizona. Haniger and Segura were named All Stars in 2018 and have combined for 16.6 bWAR in their two seasons in the Emerald City. That’s a fairly hefty price to pay, and it doesn’t help that Taijuan Walker only made 3 starts this season before being shut down needing Tommy John surgery. Ketel Marte has a chance to bring back some value for Arizona, he recently signed a contract extension through 2022 with a team option for 2023-2024, and was worth 3.3 bWAR in 2018.

Unfortunately, it is a scene we are all too familiar with recently here in Arizona in regards to starting pitchers acquired via trade. Walker is going to be on the road to rehab until at least the middle of the 2019 season, and when he returns there is no guarantee that he will be the same pitcher he was before injury. No need to look any further for comparison than Patrick Corbin and Shelby Miller. It took Corbin 3 years after going under the knife to return to his All Star potential in his final season before free agency, but Miller might not ever be the same pitcher he once was. What’s worse is that Arizona has very little contract control left over Taijuan as he is slated to become a free agent in 2021, so time is not on the team’s side.

The silver lining here is Walker’s age and enormous potential if he recovers successfully. He’ll turn 27 in August as he debuted in Seattle at the ripe young age of 20 in part because of his phenom prospect status. He is a pitcher that Arizona has tried to acquire for a very long time, and was nearly brought to the Valley in exchange for Justin Upton until the latter vetoed a trade involving the two. Walker put up 157.1 innings with a solid 135 ERA+ in 2017 during his first season in Arizona. Quite honestly, his 2018 season is entirely too small of a sample size to derive any sort of analysis from, but he looked to be well on his way to matching or improving that performance in 2018 before injury.

It was a Saturday start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Chavez Latrine that did Walker in. This was the same game during the Deven Marrero home run / Alex Avila debacle I wrote about in Marrero’s season review earlier. Walker’s fastball dropped from 94 MPH in the first three batters he faced to an alarming 90 MPH during the final at bat in the first inning, never an encouraging sign. Lovullo paid Walker a mound visit during the 2nd inning knowing something was wrong, but allowed Walker to remain in the game to finish that frame not hearing anything of concern from the big right hander. He was pinch hit for in his first at bat, and the remarks after the game suggested it wasn’t that serious. Until it was.

“It was very disappointing especially how I felt,” Walker said. “It didn’t feel that serious. It still doesn’t, but the MRI showed a pretty big tear in there, and I think the best option is to get it done, get it fixed and rehab and be ready to come back next year.”

So the starting rotation finds itself at another crossroads yet again, and it’s a coin flip as to whether Taijuan Walker is able to return to the caliber of pitcher that showed so much promise. He appeared to have found his stride in Arizona, outside of a disastrous NLDS start in Los Angeles in 2017, and is an extremely capable middle of the rotation arm if he can return to his 2017 levels of performance. If you ask me, it’s too large of an “if” because we have seen first hand the struggles pitchers face after Tommy John surgery. I’ll certainly be rooting for the young man, but am entitled to my reservations.