There was a little girl, who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead,
And when she was good, she was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
Longfellow could have been talking about 2016 Neil Walker. His first 23 games of the year were good, as Walker posted a .315/.344/.620 line. And then from May 2 to July 26, he put up a .205/.294/.319 line over 262 PA. Then in his final 100 PA, Walker notched a .440/.490/.725 line. Curtis Granderson gets all of the grief about extended stretches of poor play but few gripe how Walker was awful for nearly three consecutive months, hitting at a rate equal to 2002 Rey Ordonez during the heart of the season.
Of course, no one hits within a few points of their average OPS all year. Yet Walker’s highs were great and his low was lengthy. You cannot get any consecutive 262-PA stretch for Granderson in 2016 where his OPS was below .700, much less within shouting distance of the .613 mark that Walker posted. So, are we turned off by Walker’s streaky nature? Here’s what we think he’ll do in 2017:
While most of us don’t think he’ll quite match the overall production he produced in 2016, the vast majority of us have Walker producing at a strong rate. Only Matt, with a .753 OPS, has him noticeably below his lifetime .775 mark. We’re a little more worried about Walker being able to put in a full season. Nearly half of us have him in the 520-535 PA window, while Mike K. is particularly bearish with a 400-PA season.
Walker raised his ISO 36 points last year, thanks to tying his career-best in homers. Walker also established a career-high with a 43.3 FB%, the first time he cracked 40 percent since 2010. Our two newest writers are very bullish on Walker being able to build on his fly ball rate but most of us still see him maintaining a rate in the 40s, which should help him keep his HR totals high.
Here is our official forecast:
That’s a .792 OPS, down from his actual mark of .823 a season ago. That would still be a solid mark and we see him doing it in 83 more PA than he amassed in 2016.
Not anything directly related to our forecast but it will be interesting to see where Walker bats in the lineup this season, especially on days when Wright is playing. He batted fifth on Opening Day last year but hit fourth more than any spot in the order in 2016. However, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Walker bat seventh this year. It might be an interesting gambit to bat Walker between two lefty hitters, tempting an opposing manager to bring in a LOOGY to face all three, thereby getting Walker some ABs against the lefty pitchers that he manhandled (1.001 OPS) last year.
The ZiPS forecasts were released for the Mets today, the 28th team. We’re not the last! We’re not the last! Here’s our forecast compared to the two computer models:
All three see very similar years from Walker. We project a higher AVG, a bit more power and a few more RBIs. But comparing our forecast to the big boys, there’s nothing really that stands out.
ZiPS throws out a comp for each player and for Walker it gives Ken McMullen, a guy not remembered much today but who was a very solid player who had the misfortune of playing in the deadball 60s. In 1972, the age-equivalent season to Walker’s 2016, McMullen was a down-ballot MVP guy. Then he was traded in a blockbuster to the Dodgers, who were breaking in their classic infield. McMullen started the first five games of the season at 3B and went 7-18 with a .921 OPS. But then he injured his back, played just twice in a two-month span and lost his job to Ron Cey. Then he experienced personal tragedy, when his wife died five months after giving birth. She was diagnosed with cancer but refused treatment until after the baby was born. McMullen was never the same again.
May Walker enjoy a much better fate.