“The Pittsburgh Kid” Neil Walker has been a key member of the Pittsburgh Pirates since his debut in 2009. Walker grew up watching the Pirates; he lived through the years of losing and made it his mission to end the streak. His 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons were very good, but the Pirates didn’t even finish with better than a .500 record. Oddly enough, his worst statistical season was the Pirates’ best season as a team.
Walker is a career .273/.339/.423 hitter, but his 2013 season didn’t go as well as he had hoped. He has missed several games over his short career with the Pirates because of many different injuries. He played in 133 games with the Bucs in 2013, hitting for a .251/.339/.418 average with a career high 16 home runs. The power rose in 2013, but his average dropped significantly from his .280 2012 average.
A switch-hitter, Walker hits much better from the left side. As a lefty, Walker hit for a .256/.350/.455 line in 2013, compared to a .225/.281/.238 line as a right-handed hitter. From the right side, Walker put up a very below average 48 wRC+ (100 is average), as a lefty, his wRC+ was an impressive 127.
Conventional thinking would suggest moving from a switch-hitter to a pure left-handed hitter, but Walker has said several times he isn’t open to trying that. The next best option would be to find a platoon partner for Walker so he doesn’t have to hit left-handed pitching. The Pirates did this in the second half of 2013, with Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison sharing time as Walker’s platoon partner.
The Pirates appear to want Mercer to be the everyday shortstop in 2014; so having him platoon with Walker appears unlikely. Unless the Pirates find someone in free agency or via trade, Harrison will be the best option to platoon with Walker next season. Let’s not act like that’s a bad thing, though. Harrison was great against southpaws in 2013, hitting for a .350/.381/.600 line, but in only 42 plate appearances.
If someone like me, just a watcher of baseball, can see that the best way to utilize Walker is to make him strictly a platoon player, one would have to think the Pirates will take this approach in 2014. The numbers don’t lie; the Pirates want to use Walker like he is an everyday player, but the reality is that he is a very effective role player.