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2018 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews # 23, Christian Walker

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Pinch hit specialist!

Christian Walker hits home run against Dodgers.
Christian Walker hits home run against Dodgers.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2018 rating: 5.06

2017 rating: 4.58

2018 salary: league minimum

2018 performance: 53 PAs, 8 hits, 3 HRs, 6 RBIs, .163/.226/.388 = .614 OPS. He played first and left field.

2019 status: He is on the D-backs’ 40-man roster, and he is projected to start the season in AAA.

He is a “pinch hit specialist,” and more.

He is primarily a first baseman, who can play left field. As his path to the Majors was blocked by other players, he developed into a pinch hitting specialist.

In the last two seasons, in 81% of his games (39 of 48 games), he had exactly one plate appearance. In those games, he has had 8 hits, 4 home runs, and 5 RBIs. That is an amazing home run per 10 PAs. In addition, he had exactly one PA in two post-season games, with one hit and hit-by-pitch. Source: Baseball Reference.

In addition to pre-game preparation, his extensive in-game preparation was described by Zach Buchanan. He spends several innings preparing to pinch hit. His preparations include hitting off underhand/overhand tosses, and the pitching machine. “A big part of it, after sitting in the dugout for a few innings, is trying to get back up to the speed of the game in terms of your eyes and your decision-making process.” — Christian Walker

By watching pitch counts, he anticipates which relief pitchers he might face. In the dugout, he watches video of those pitchers. “I can click righties and watch them face power-hitting righties. I can watch guys with runners in scoring position. That’s good as far as narrowing a search and looking for something specific.” — Christian Walker

Beyond being a pinch-hitting specialist, Kennedy Jorgensen wrote that Christian Walker is comfortable with two approaches to hitting: power hitting, and doubles/high-batting-average. ”I wasn’t always a power hitter, I was more of a doubles and a batting-average guy before I found the power stroke. I still remember and embrace that.” — Christian Walker

Power is his calling card. And he dominates putting the ball in play when the pitch is in the zone.

OPS, which is normally a good statistic, is deceptive in this instance. This season, of the 22 position players for the D-backs, his OPS ranked 15th. You might think small sample size. Or, you could think his batting was nothing special. You would be mistaken. Christian Walker bats better than that!

Insightful statistics that reflect his great hitting:

  • He hit homers at the fastest rate on the team. His HR/PA (.0566) was the highest ratio on the D-backs. And in the last two seasons as a pinch hitter, his ratio was nearly twice as good (an amazing .1026.) Source: Baseball Reference.
  • His percent of barrels was higher than Goldschmidt (14.8% vs 13.6%). Source: Statcast.
  • When a pitch is in the strike zone, he put the ball in play at a higher percentage (65.7%) than Goldschmidt (48.0%), Descalso (50.5%), Peralta (55.5%), and Escobar (60.8%); caveat I calculated percentages only for those five players. Source: Statcast data.

”[My injury] could have been way worse.” Christian Walker

On 24 September, a Kenta Maeda’ fastball fractured his sinus. Surgery was required.

  • ”Terrible news for him because of the path that he was on. We were hoping to get him some more at-bats and maybe get him a start in left field just to expose him once again to that spot.” — Torey Lovullo
  • ”Knowing that he’s going to be a piece of this puzzle in the future, the more places that he can play I think is going to enhance his opportunity to get at-bats.” — Torey Lovullo.

How have players with similar injuries bounced back? Two examples of players who recovered follow:

  • Giancarlo Stanton was hit in the face on September 12, 2014. Possibly because 2014 was a career-best season, he had a slight drop in 2015. However, he kept playing well and had a new and better career-best season in 2017.
  • Mitch Haniger was hit in the face on July 29, 2017. Although 2017 was a career-best season, his OPS+ and oWAR both improved after the injury. In 2018, he had a new and better career-best season.

Speaking of his development, Christian Walker said, “There were a lot of hurdles to jump, like mental toughness, learning about myself and maturing…” His injury is just another hurdle. Christian Walker will likely recover similarly to Stanton and Haniger, and like them, his career-best season is in front of him.