Up the Middle: Neil Walker

It’s Indians mania here in Northeastern Ohio. As I write this post, thousands of win-thirsty Cleveland Indian fans are pouring into Progressive Field hoping to see the Tribe put the Rays to bed. Just three hours east of here, though, another surprise team already locked up their place in the National League Division Series. The Pirates rolled right on through the Reds and into the NL Divisional Playoffs in front of their equally win-starved baseball fans of Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

The Pirates are one of the better stories in baseball in 2013, and in an effort to stay in sync with current events, I decided to take a look at the man at the Buccos’ keystone for this week’s post. Neil Walker won’t be winning many awards for flashiest player on the diamond. In fact, a lot of his value in fantasy doesn’t come from any one standout category, but rather decent production from a second baseman once the top guys are off the board. When we try to imagine the type of cloth from which Walker is cut, we don’t exactly think Technicolor Dreamcoat.

To be fair, Walker has missed thirty games each of the last two seasons, so let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. I’m sure that plays into the valuations of a lot of fantasy owners. Also, Walker isn’t really a base stealer, and often times we’re looking for some speed from our middle infield slot. But if you aren’t in the mood to pay through your nose for an elite level second baseman like Robinson Cano or *ahem* Jason Kipnis, a guy like Walker can really offer solid fantasy value in the middle to late rounds of a draft.

He’s still just 28 years old which puts him on the right side of thirty for dynasty league purposes. Over the last three years he’s posted top ten numbers among second basemen in runs, home runs, and runs batted in. Granted, he’s on the back end of those top tens, but they’re top ten performances nonetheless. Given that those are three of the five standard roto categories, Walker’s ‘boring’ reputation actually makes him kind of a sneaky value for fantasy players.

Walker’s BABIP dipped from well above .300 in 2011 and 2012 to just .274 this year, which partly explains why his average suddenly fell to a pedestrian .251, and also offers some hope that it could surge back up to the .275-.280 mark with a little more luck. His 23% line drive percentage is also encouraging, and his ground ball and fly all percentages are both trending in good directions over the last three years.

All in all, Walker is a solid young player at second base who won’t cost you an arm and a leg or completely kill you in any category. His RBI double to deep left in Tuesday’s game is a great example of what Walker does best – gets on base and drives in runs in the top half of a very talented young lineup. I hope the postseason berth of the Pirates brings a little more attention to what Walker is able to contribute, and I hope that the Buccos can make a nice run. That is, until they crash into a buzzsaw called the Cleveland Indians. Go Tribe. Nevermind.

Mike is also a contributor at Razzball and 643ballFollow him on the Twitter @643ball

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