The Pittsburgh Pirates have themselves a very good second baseman in Neil Walker. I seem to write a lot of negative posts about Walker, but I really don’t think he’s a bad player. I just think the Pirates are putting him, and the team, in a bad position by continuing to let him hit against left-handed pitching.
Against right-handed pitchers, Walker is an above-average offensive second baseman with a .277/.393/.463 slash line in 211 plate appearances in 2013. His walk rate is at 11.4 percent when he is batting left-handed, compared to just a 7.4 percent from the right side of the plate.
When hitting right-handed in 2013 — against left-handed pitching, obviously – Walker is hitting for an awful .170/.231/.170 slash line. Granted, it’s a small sample size — only 54 plate appearances – but it is still really ugly to look at.
I have a hard time believing the Pirates will look to replace him as the full-time second baseman because he’s obviously a valuable player to the Pirates and is a “hometown hero” who has a ton of fans. However, I do think Pirates general manager Neal Huntington needs to search hard on the trade market for a second baseman or utility infielder that can hit southpaws.
My biggest fear in a potential wild card play-in game for the Pirates is that if the opposing team starts a tough left-handed pitcher, the Pirates wouldn’t stand a chance. Walker can’t hit lefties, and Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones and Travis Snider also struggle against southpaws.
While looking through the potential available second baseman, I found two players in particular who shouldn’t cost a ton and could handle lefties fairly well.
First, Nick Punto. He can play shortstop, second base and third base. His UZR/150 at shortstop is 6.9, 5.2 at second base and 25.5 at third base. Obviously, his best defensive position is third base, but Alvarez is becoming a much better hitter and a platoon with the third baseman isn’t entirely necessary.
Against southpaws in 2013, Punto is hitting for a .328/.391/.379 slash line. He’s not going to provide power, but he will certainly erase the black hole the Pirates have at second base against left-handed pitching, and he will provide great defense when he gets playing time.
The second guy I found is Darwin Barney. He won’t be a utility guy like Punto, as he is a pure second baseman. He plays very good defense at second base too, with a 12.1 UZR/150. Against southpaws, Barney has a .292/.370/.492 slash line. He will likely be harder to acquire than Punto, however.
Both players would be great fits with the Pirates, and I think one of them needs to be a Pirate by Aug. 1.