All Neil Walker needed was health.
That was the prevalent thought for the Pittsburgh Pirates as far as the potential impact of their second baseman was concerned, and for a good half of May, they were entirely correct. The 27-year old had returned from a hand injury and wasted no time demonstrating his impact, posting a .284/.385/.493 line over 78 PA in from May 13 to the end of the month, smashing three home runs in the process.
Not only that, but he posted multi-hit performances in six of his final eight games before the calendar turned.
June, however, has been a different story.
Yes, even though monthly splits are just glimpses with arbitrary endpoints in the end, there’s no question that Walker is no longer doing what he’s used to. His season numbers have tumbled to .244/.347/.376 thanks to a rather horrendous .186/.300/.288 line over 70 PA thus far, and he has lost his normally good discipline, posting a season-low 0.33 BB/K in that span.
All that has been on display all week during the Bucs’ series against the Cincinnati Reds. While Walker snapped a four-game hitless streak with his third double of the month on Thursday, his 1-for-4 is hardly what you would call a slump-busting performance. Prior to that, he’d gone 0-for-12 over three games, with six strikeouts in that span — yes, it was ugly.
Most notably so, though, is his total inability to hit southpaws. That’s always been an issue over his young career (except for 2010), but it’s never be so pronounce as it is right now.
Against right-handers, Walker is a fine hitter, owning a .810 OPS with all five of his home runs this season coming from that side. Put a lefty against him though, and the second baseman is practically useless, owning a 0.38 BB/K along with a .402 OPS — yes, that’s below his .431 slugging percentage vs. RHP.
So basically, what the Pirates have is a very good platoon player right now, even if what they need is a good everyday second baseman who isn’t being dropped to seventh in the order. Walker might finally have his health, but as for his bat … well, that’s still a work in progress.