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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Review #4: Christian Walker

Fierce & tough, prepared & confident, aware, and skilled.

Christian Walker hits a 2-run homer.
Christian Walker hits a 2-run homer.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • rating: 7.43
  • age: 29
  • 2020 stats: 243 PA, .271/.333/.459 = .792 OPS, positive 0.4 bWAR, positive 0.8 fWAR
  • 2020 salary: League Minimum (Pre-Arb)
  • 2021 status: Projected on the 26-man roster; primary first baseman for the Diamondbacks.

If you are a Diamondbacks fan, you have likely read some articles about Christian Walker. I read 23 of them. Let’s be different. After a brief introduction (maybe too brief), this 2020 review will focus on four characteristics that define Christian Walker.

Brief Introduction

  • In 2014, Christian Walker showed promise in AA (20.2 K% and .884 OPS).
  • In 2014 and 2015, his very limited playing time for the Orioles was less than stellar.
  • In February 2017, the Orioles lost Walker on waivers to the Braves. In the following month, he moved on waivers to the Reds, then to the Diamondbacks.
  • In 2017, Christian Walker showed promise in AAA (17.6 K% and .980 OPS). He earned the Pacific Coast League’s MVP award.
  • In 2017 and 2018, as a pinch hitter for the Diamondbacks he made a positive contribution.
  • September 25, 2018 might have been Christian Walker’s last baseball game because he was hit in the face by a pitch. As Walker said, “Could have been way worse.”
  • Left Field possibility. Torey Lovullo said, “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.” This 2017 article showed Walker’s range and fielding percent in left field (792 innings in AAA) were better than Yasmany Tomas.
  • In December of 2018, the Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals, opening the first base position as an opportunity for Christian Walker.
  • Spring Training 2019. Jake Lamb earned the first base job, although Torey Lovullo intended to play Lamb at third base on occasion. It looked like Walker would remain a pinch hitter with occasional starts at first base.
  • On April 3, while ‘legging out’ a double, Jake Lamb had strained his quad and did not return until June 26. Christian Walker got increased playing time.
  • In March/April, he hit 7 homers, 15 RBIs, and had an OPS of .994. As Jim McLennan wrote, “It was the highest April OPS by a rookie (min. 50 PA) in franchise history.” Christian Walker, pinch hitter, became Christian Walker, Diamondbacks’ first baseman.
  • Christian Walker was the 2019 AZ SnakePit Rookie of the Year. Jim McLennan wrote, “His 29 home-runs were second-most by a D-backs rookie ever (Chris Young had 32 in 2007), and his 73 RBI were also second-most (Conor Jackson, of all people, had 79 in 2006). While earning a twenty-fifth of what Goldschmidt did in St. Louis, Walker had a not dissimilar season, and even picked up an unexpected Gold Glove nomination.”
  • In 2019, he earned 11 Defensive Runs Saved. Nick Ahmed said, “He is incredibly improved and underrated defensively. Going back to spring training [2019] and the offseason, he was always picking my brain about defense and his footwork and hands. He has made every routine play, picked balls out of the dirt for us and he’s made phenomenal plays. He is a Gold Glover in my eyes.”

Four Characteristics

Fierce and tough.

“It’s so natural for me. I’m a fierce, fierce competitor.” — Walker

His coaches agreed. Diamondbacks assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye said, “Walker always was a really tough SOB.” Buch Showalter said, “He’s as tough a player as you’ll ever meet.”

Opposing pitchers experience tough at-bats. “I would say I want the pitcher to know that he did not get me out. If I get out, it’s because something I did. I want him to know that he did not dominate me - you know, just throw three pitches how he wanted. …It’s a blend of feeling like I am competing every pitch, but also getting back to the dugout and he knows I got out, not because of something he did. I want to feel like I got out on my own terms. It’s important for me to maintain positivity in stretches of 0-for. To still feel competitive on a pitch to pitch basis.” — Walker

“I’ve just got resting bitch face on or whatever it is.” Walker

Rarely does a player get tested as Walker did when he was hit in the face with a Kenta Maeda fastball. After surgery, his jaw was wired shut. Steve Gilbert wrote that he, “was restricted to a liquid diet for a month during which he dropped 20 pounds.” Christian Walker said it was, “like a free-for-all just trying to get calories in me.” He passed his test of toughness because the next season (2019) was a career best season.

Prepared and confident. His results speak volumes. Let’s look at his words:

“What’s going to happen in tonight’s game has already happened. The work has been put in, the preparation has been made. Now it’s go out and play.” — Walker

“I learned a lot [from Buck Showalter] in terms of preparation and never being caught off-guard, and really understanding what it means to be prepared at this level.” — Walker

“That’s the ultimate sign of confidence. When you know who you are through to your core, the [immediate] results don’t matter.” — Walker

“I know who I am, I love who I am on the baseball field and off the field and whatever happens, happens. It’s going to be a good year regardless.” — Walker Feb 2019

Aware of differences between success and failure. Again, let’s look at his words

“I want the feeling of, man that was a good at-bat and I just missed it.” — Walker

“In the moment, you feel like, ‘I’m never going to get a hit again.’ But then you go back and watch the swings and you’re just missing a homer.” ...“Centimeters. Millimeters.” — Walker

“I always feel like I’m just one little nugget away from unlocking something massive.” —Walker

“I just need to get a little bit better and then a little bit better and a little bit better.” — Walker

Full bag of skills. Three skills are hitting, playing in left field, and defense at first base.

He has awesome hitting skills.

  • He developed the ability to hit with two strikes. In 2020, his .285 wOBA with 2-strikes was the highest on the Diamondbacks.
  • He can hit with power to all fields. ZIPS projection, for 21 & 22 combined, of .045 homers per plate appearance is the highest on the Diamondback team.

“I just pride myself on being a complete hitter. I like to think I’m comfortable leading off and hitting with two strikes. I have definitely developed that over the years. 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.” — Walker

“I definitely learned that the more I used the whole field, the better I hit. I used to be more pull-oriented. But the last couple of years, I increasingly learned to go up the middle and to the opposite field. I could stay back, let the ball travel, see it better. For years, I’ve believed that I constantly have to evolve as a hitter, and a big part of my evolution has been learning to use the entire field.” — Walker

One of his foundational skills was pinch hitting.

“In September and in the playoffs, he demonstrated his high value as a pinch hitter.” —Makakilo Sep 2017

His skill at pinch hitting kept him on the team until he had a chance to earn the first base position. His guiding principles in hitting success were:

  • “Less is more.” — Christian Walker
  • “You can let all the angles sink in, affect you and feel like the situation you’re in is so important.” — Christian Walker
  • “Not that it isn’t, it’s just that in order to be successful in that situation[pinch hitting], I know I’ll be in a better place if I play it simple, downplay it and basically just limit my objective to helping the team.” — Christian Walker

Although first base is his natural position, in the minors he developed his ability to play left field.

“Defensively in left field, Walker looks better [2016] than Tomas in range [1.5 vs 1.35 range factor] and fielding percentage [.978 vs .959]. 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.” — Makakilo

He is a skilled defender at first base. His gold glove nomination in 2019 was well earned. Although his defensive runs saved fell in 2020, his success rate in double play opportunities increased from 48% to 60%. I’m looking forward to his next nomination for a gold glove.