2022 Stats: 583 AB, .242/.327/.477, 36 HR, 5.1 bWAR
DOB: March 28th, 1991 (32 years old on Opening Day 2023)
2022 Salary: $2.6 Million
2023 Status: Arb-eligible, MLBTR estimated cost $7.3 Million
To review Christian Walker’s 2022 season, you have to go back to the offseason of 2021. Walker was coming off a more than unimpressive season, and the team had just traded for 1B/OF Jordan Luplow. Additionally, the team was not looking to compete, so it made sense to give more of the at-bats to, say, Pavin Smith at his natural position. Many expected, or even hoped for him to be non-tendered. It came as something of a shock when Nick Piecoro announced that the Diamondbacks had tendered him a contract leading up to the deadline. The announcement lead us (Either Jim or James) to tweet this reaction:
So the Diamondbacks traded for a Christian Walker replacement, but then kept a woefully underperforming Christian Walker at the non-tender deadline.— AZ SnakePit (@AZSnakepit) December 1, 2021
Not sure I should be surprised. This feels pretty on-brand for the last 24 months of this team.
Some chose to put it... less eloquently
Piecoro is reporting that Walker has been tendered a contract, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go beat my head against a wall until it makes sense— ISH95 (@imstillhungry95) December 1, 2021
Let’s all point and laugh at that jackass, shall we?
No amount of threats of self-harm influenced Hazen’s decision making process, and Christian Walker entered the 2022 season as the Diamondbacks starting first baseman. The first month of the season did absolutely nothing to dispel any worries that may have been had about retaining his services. He hit an abysmal .147 for the month of April, with only seven RBI, four of which were himself as part of a home run. Despite the struggles, there was reason to hope, as that impossibly low batting average was also accompanied by an equally unbelievable BABIP of .135 for the entire month. On the other hand, he also possessed an OPS+ of 69, a whopping 31 points below league average.
April, of course, gives way to May, and things briefly started looking up for Walker. He added a hundred points to his BABIP, and miraculously enough, his numbers looked better. A BABIP of .229 is still significantly below league average, but it’s a lot less unlucky than the .135 from April. Even with that improvement, his numbers weren’t inspiring, and hardly doing anything to convince anyone that he was deserving of the roster space he had been given. He did add another nine home runs to his season total, though, providing power that was much needed on a team that really only had one other home run threat in Dalton Varsho.
Discussion turned frequently to Walker’s BABIP over the next two months as, once again, the stat took a nose dive into the sub-.200 range. Some argued that it was just a matter of time before the number regressed back to league average and Walker produced at a solid level again. Others got tired of waiting, again pointing to the desire to kickstart a youth movement that Hazen continued to avoid for reasons, presumably service time, that were unsatisfactory. June and July dragged by with Walker still holding down first base, now with a batting average of merely .200 by the end of July.
The other saving grace that Walker had, in addition to his power, was his frankly incredible defense. While he was struggling at the plate, he was putting up his best defensive season of his career. When it was all said and done, he set a career high in UZR at 5.5 and nearly a career high in Outs Above Average at 14. Just for good measure, he also made sure to put up great numbers in the traditional metrics, comitting only five errors on the season for a fielding% of .996. He was firmly cementing himself in the discussion as the best defensive first baseman in the league.
Eventually, those that argued for patience were rewarded. Once the calendar turned to August, balls that had been finding gloves started finding grass, and just like that, Walker started looking like a hitter worth a roster spot. He kept adding the home runs, got the batting average to his career mark, set a career best in slugging%, and boosted his season OPS+ to a respectable 126. His 36 home runs were good for the fourth best in the National League and eventually brought home the Gold Glove.
Despite an unwelcomed and rough start to the season, Walker not only salvaged his season, but managed to make it into the top three of our reviews this offseason, and deservedly so. The question now becomes which Walker can we expect next season. He is in line for a significant pay raise in arbitration to somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 million dollars, which would make him the fifth highest paid player on the team. If we get 2019 or second half 2022 Walker, that will be a steal and a huge boost for the would-be Wild Card contenders. He just needs to find a way to avoid the opposing team’s fielders.