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Diamondbacks Game Preview #66: 6/17 vs. Twins

On pace for close to a five-win season, Christian Walker is doing very nicely - despite a .201 average.

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MLB: JUN 13 Reds at Diamondbacks Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Today's Lineups

TWINS DIAMONDBACKS
Byron Buxton - DH Carson Kelly - C
Carlos Correa - SS Josh Rojas - 3B
Gio Urshela - 3B Jordan Luplow - LF
Gary Sanchez - C Christian Walker - 1B
Luis Arraez - 2B Daulton Varsho - RF
Jose Miranda - 1B Buddy Kennedy - DH
Max Kepler - RF Alek Thomas - CF
Gilberto Celestino - CF Jake Hager - 2B
Trevor Larnach - LF Geraldo Perdomo - SS
Devin Smeltzer - LHP M. Bumgarner - LHP

Roster moves

  • Selected INF Buddy Kennedy from Triple-A Reno.
  • Transferred RHP Humberto Castellanos to the 60-day injured list (strained right elbow).
  • Optioned OF Jake McCarthy to Reno following Wednesday’s game.

Christian Walker is having a very odd season. He’s batting barely over the Uecker Line at .201, but despite that, he has been the team’s most valuable player so far (as measured by the average of bWAR and fWAR). Right now, he’s on pace for a 4.9 bWAR campaign, which considering he’s earning just $2.6 million this year i.e. one-tenth of a certain other first baseman, is pretty impressive. Anyone remember the SnakePit mob with torches which formed when Walker was tendered? The calls for Pavin Smith or Seth Beer to be given the everyday starter’s job at first? The former has an OPS+ of 76, and the latter earned himself a demotion to Reno, where he is hitting .204 with a .770 OPS...

A couple of areas have been huge in Walker’s value. Firstly is his power. Christian is only two off the league lead for home-runs, on pace for 39 long balls. That would be most by any Diamondback since 2009, when Mark Reynolds hit 44. The main factor in his low average is an extraordinarily low BABIP: just .187, the lowest by nineteen points of any qualifying batter in the major leagues. It’s likely unsustainable. Firstly, no such hitter has had a BABIP below .200 over a full season since Aaron Hill in 2010 for the Blue Jays reached .196. In addition, Walker is above average in almost every hitting peripheral, e.g. in the 85th percentile for hard-hit rate. His expected batting average is .278, seventy-seven points above reality.

The other area where Walker has excelled is on defense: see above for some examples over the past year or so. To this point, he is easily the front-runner for the National League Gold Glove at first-base, regardless of your preferred metric. Fangraph’s DEF number? Top in the majors. Total Zone’s Fielding Runs Above Average? Top in the majors. BIS Defensive Runs Saved? Top in the majors. What’s particularly impressive is that this was not always the case. As a prospect in the minors, Walker’s defense was described in terms such as “needs work” or “fringe-average”. He has simply put in the effort to get better, and that’s something which doesn’t go away. Work ethic isn’t BABIP dependent.

At this point, first-base would appear to be one of the few positions on the diamond for Arizona, where we seem to have a settled everyday starter for the next couple of years.

Torey Lovullo Notes

Ketel Marte is out of the lineup, and “for right now” is day to day. He’s dealing with a Left Hamstring Spasm. (Not the right as we were told on Wednesday’s.) He will be getting an MRI today, contrary to Wednesday update. For his part, Ketel told the beat writers that he felt different from last time, (less severe) and believed he could play on Sunday. We’ll see.

Buddy Kennedy was called up to give coverage in the infield. While Torey went out of his way to explain that he only gets to give input and does not make demands on the front office, Lovullo said “the roster construction was more balanced with five and five (5 infielders, 5 outfielders). We knew that there was potential with Ketel maybe missing a day or two we would need an extra infielder. I just think five and five fits this team better with the position player breakdown.”

The primary reason Jake McCarthy was sent down was because at bats were “getting to be a little more lean for him. Getting him consistent at bats was the most important thing for us as an organization. A player never likes to hear that, because he’d rather stay here and get a start or two a week and have the ability to help us win games inside of those starts.”

Torey Lovullo audio

Buddy Kennedy notes

Kennedy also spoke with the media before the game and I’m sure there will be some highlights of that on the Bally Sports Pre Game show and during the game. He is a very engaging and funny guy with a lot of personality. Transcribing quotes doesn’t really do him justice. But hopefully you can find the time to listen to his 7 minutes audio and catch the game preview on Bally.

One story I need to relay though. The grandson of former major leaguer Don Money, Kennedy is known as a grinder.

He told a story about working out this past winter with Mike Trout. He and Trout both live in New Jersey and he’s been friends with Mike and the Trout family since 2012. Trout was one. of the first people Kennedy called after his family. Trout brought up one day this past winter Kennedy was feeling tired, and there had been a heavy snow storm and he was thinking about blowing off working out that day.

“Trout got on me. You won’t make it to the show if you take days off. He brought that moment up. He said I told you it will pay off, you just gotta trust me. I’ve done it. You wanna get there, you gotta work.”

Buddy Kennedy audio