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Christian Walker’s Tender Offer

Christian Walker’s tender off surprised many fans. Let’s look at the pros and cons of his tender offer.

Walker celebrates his 2-run homer.
Walker celebrates his 2-run homer.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The big news surprised many AZ Snake Pit fans. The Diamondbacks tendered Christian Walker for next season.

“The big news is that the D-backs have, according to Nick Piecoro, tendered first baseman Christian Walker a contract. He seemed a likely candidate to go, considering both his very underwhelming [2021], and the recent arrival of 1B/OF Jordan Luplow. …With an MLB Trade Rumors estimate of $2.7 million for 2022, the D-backs apparently in cost-cutting mode, and alternatives such as Pavin Smith, many expected him to be cut.” — Jim McLennan and Michael McDermott

“Totally surprised by the decision to tender Walker.” — Edbigghead

“I’m pissed off, but not surprised….this is not a competitive team, but a developmental one. Walker shouldn’t be taking AB’s away from players who will actually be around when this team is once again competitive.” — NikT77

“Feels like Jake Lamb all over again.” — Craiginphoenix

“While in principal it’s similar situation, it should be noted that tendering Lamb cost them $5.5M as he was later on in the arbitration process, whereas Walker is Arb 1 and only going to make between $2 and $2.5 Million.” — Jack Sommers

“But this over the top FURY from everyone over Christian Walker is honestly just funny to me. Even with how cheap this team is, 2.7 million is nothing. I don’t really care.” — joecb1991

“People are just ready to turn the page. Walker is not part of the future. Getting to that future requires letting go of the past. There’s a lot of frustration in the Pit with veterans like Walker stealing PAs from younger guys that may or may not be something to get excited about. Maybe Pavin is “just-a-guy”. Walker stealing time from him will only make it longer until we find that out.” — Ryeandi

Was tendering Christian Walker a mistake?

Christian Walker is a right handed batter (RHB). One goal of the Diamondbacks is to add right handed batters because they are heavily left handed. The conventional wisdom is that RHBs hit an OPS about 80 points higher against left-handed pitchers than right handed pitchers. Contrary to conventional wisdom, in the last three seasons Christian Walker’s OPS was worse against left handed pitchers.

“I wonder if they plan on platooning a lot more. Most of this lineup is left handed. If they plan on playing Walker against lefties only replacing Pavin at 1B and Beer as DH, this sort of makes sense. … Of course that ignores that Walker has been worse against Lefties in his career but as a wise man has told me in the past, those splits usually work themselves out. I still think it was a dumb decision and think there are better RH options out there for a similar price…” — Craiginphoenix

His hard hit percentage shows a downward trend.

His yearly HH% is on a downward trend. It fell from 46.1% in 2019, to 44.1% in 2020, to 35.7% in 2021. In 2021 his best hard hitting % was in June (41.9%), which was below his averages for 2019 and 2020. Whether he can regain his HH% is a legitimate concern.

His playing time reduces Pavin Smith’s playing time.

It appears the team plans to give equal playing time to Christian Walker and Pavin Smith. For example, in July/August/September/October Christian Walker’s 364 PAs were only slightly more than Pavin Smith’s 333 PAs. If Pavin Smith’s PAs were significantly increased, it could speed his development and allow the Diamondbacks to evaluate Pavin Smith’s potential to succeed in the Majors. With increased playing time Pavin Smith would be in a sink or swim situation; if Pavin Smith is successful the team will be improved in the short term and long term.

“Pavin Smith: Just terrible vs. LHP. He gets a single often enough to make it look like he’s handling left hand pitching, but there’s no pop there at all, .057 ISO . Still if I were running the team I’d trade Walker and play Smith every day in 2022 and let him either sink or swim. When he does need a day off, then sure, make it against a lefty and give Luplow a start.” — Jack Sommers

“Maybe the decision would bother me more if I thought Pavin was more than just-a-guy.” — joecb1991

2021 stats and 2022 projections.

Christian Walker’s 2021 stats were disappointing compared to 2019 and 2020. Examples were .696 OPS, .304 wOBA, and .022 HR/PA. One stat that was positive was FanGraphs’ clutch; .64 in 2020 and .61 in 2021 were career bests. Walker performs better in high leverage situations.

ZiPS, Marcels, and Steamer projected Walker’s OPS will be .744, which is exactly half way between his 2020 OPS (good) and 2021 OPS(disappointing). That half-way result would be disappointing. His 2021 results and his 2022 projections raise legitimate concerns about his performance.

“After being solid at the plate in both 2019 and 2020 (OPS+ of 111 and 112 respectively), while also being a Gold Glove finalist in 2019, Walker slumped to a line of just .244/.315/.382, a .696 OPS and 88 OPS+. — JimMcLennan and Michael McDermott

Arbitration will increase Christian Walker salary the next few seasons. In 2024, Jack Sommers has projected his salary will exceed the value of his WAR. If the team is truly rebuilding with a single-minded focus on 2024, that is a big reason to either trade him or non-tender him.

Was tendering Christian Walker a good move?

Christian Walker has three outstanding characteristics per this AZ Snake Pit article

  • Prepared and confident.
  • Aware of differences between success and failure.
  • Full bag of skills including pinch hitting, hitting with 2 strikes, and hitting to all fields.

“Walker always was a really tough SOB.” — Amiel Sawdaye, Assistant GM for Diamondbacks

In the preseason, Christian Walker was ranked as an average starting first baseman. Except for his oblique injuries, which are temporary, nothing has fundamentally changed his ranking.

  • February, Paul Sporer ranked him the 22nd first baseman in baseball.
  • March, Justin Mason ranked him the 18th first baseman in baseball.

Christian Walker swings the bat well.

His basic hitting stats as explained in this AZ Snake Pit article.

Data from FanGraphs. Median for non-pitchers all teams.

The table shows that Walker has swung the bat well each of the last two seasons based on his LD% and BABIP were better than median for non-pitchers.

“I look at my swing on video and I absolutely love where it is. I’d argue mechanically, I’m in the best spot of my career.” — Christian Walker June 2021.

The table shows that Walker saw the ball about average for non-pitchers based on his contact % and ratio of BB/SO. The trend in BB/SO from .432 in 2019, to .380 in 2020, to .358 in 2021 is a concern that probably can be fixed.

Christian Walker recovered from injury and his September batting was outstanding.

In 2021, Christian Walker said his slump was because he was not hitting the ball in the air due to a nagging oblique injury. He reasoned that during his rehab he may have formed habits (such as his body compensating for an injury that has since healed) that are hard to identify and fix.

The following table shows his monthly splits. After his oblique injuries, in May and June his FB% was lowered from 53% to between 22% and 28%. In July and August, he increased his FB% at a significant cost – his line drive % dropped from about 26% to between 20.8% and 16.7%.

I was favorably impressed with his batting in September/October. His FB% was 41.4%, his LD% was 27.6%, his HH% was 34.5% and his OPS was .788. Because these stats are in the neighborhood of his stats for 2019 and 2020, my view of next season is favorable.

Christian Walker, 2021 Season. Data from FanGraphs.

Christian Walker will have trade value at the deadline.

If Christian Walker bounces back to 2019 levels, he will be in high demand at the trade deadline. If he does not bounce back to 2019 levels, Christian Walker will nevertheless be tradeable at the deadline because he has skills that teams may need.

  • He is an excellent pinch hitter. That skill is rare.
  • In 2019 he was nominated for a Gold Glove at first base.

“There is only one thing I will take from this…. Walker must have trade value, he has enough replacements on this team, that they didn’t want to let him go for nothing. THAT is the only sensible reason for tendering Walker.” — GuruB

“I agree with Guru above…..they must think they can trade Walker for something....FWIW, I had Walker in very slight positive trade value territory for 2022, at +1.3 M, break even in 2023, but -5M in 2024 in what would be his final year of arb. LINK” — Jack Sommers

Optimistic Summary.

Although this seasons results and projections for next season are disappointing, if his September OPS of .788 shows he is nearly back to his 2019 level of performance (OPS of .825) then next season he will perform well above projections. Even if he does not exceed projections, he will have value at the trade deadline, should the right opportunity present itself. Therefore, Christian Walker’s tender was a good move.