A couple of weeks ago Christian Walker was walking through the clubhouse towing the big boombox on wheels the players like to use out on the field while practicing. (They often make the Rookies lug the thing around, but not this day) Walker was on his way on his way for pre-game agility drills, and then to take infield practice. Christian stopped however to answer a few questions I had for him about his ever-growing defensive reputation.
I asked him what has been the key to turning himself into an elite defensive first baseman and if he was aware that the Statcast and other metrics ranked him so highly. Walker said he paid little or no attention to stats and metrics, whether defensive or batting. (He doesn’t even look at the batted ball data we all talk about so much). For him it’s simply a matter of putting in the work on his craft and the process of improvement.
He talked about finding better ways to practice defense, such as using the high velocity machine to field ground balls, instead of just taking grounders off the coach’s bats. Having more focused, intensified drills made him want to practice more, and the more he practiced, the better he got in games, creating a positive feedback loop.
Torey Lovullo spoke glowingly of Christians work ethic and improvements. “He does a lot right when it comes to the fundamentals of picking up a baseball. That includes his preparation, his posture to the baseball, and his ability to pick it up by being in the right place as possible..He’s relentless with his work habits, he doesn’t take days off”
Note: Statcast also show OAA or outs above average, but using runs prevented allows us to compare with rDRS from Baseball Reference.
This isn’t the first time Walker has dominated this type of leaderboard. In fact Walker holds the record for the single season Statcast Run Prevented (+12) and OAA (+15) at first base, set in 2019. And since the advent of this metric at Statcast from 2016-2022, he has the most Runs Prevented and OAA cumulatively.
If you watch a lot of Diamondbacks baseball and Walker isn’t impressing you with the eyeball test, you might need new prescription glasses. Time and again we have seen him make diving stops to his right to rob a base hit. In fact if you follow that first link above the chart to the 2022 statcast page you will see he has +7 OAA going to his right .
Overcoming past short comings, he’s been making mostly accurate throws to turn the 3-6-3 double play, making just one throwing error on the year. He’s also started the most double plays of any firstbaseman in the MLB, (9). There is still some improvement that could be made with his throwing. He does come down sidearm quite low, and as a result his footwork needs to be very quick to clear the runner.
We’ve seen him range into foul territory to snare difficult popups this year more than years past. He does a good job on scoops, and needs to, as he’s often challenged with balls in the dirt from his young infield mates.
Here are a few highlights for your viewing pleasure. But if you need to see more, just tune in to a D-backs game. You’re very likely to see one.