Truthfully, it’s hard to say. If you were to plot the Neil Walker‘s fielding percentage each year on a line graph, you’d see a fairly straight line absent very many peaks and valleys while hovering between .985 and .992. Now, if you were to plot the average National League second baseman’s fielding percentage, you’d see a similar line, with the only difference being that it would fall a few points below Walker’s. To those not good with understanding and interpreting graphs, this would indicate that Walker is an above average second baseman defensively if we use fielding percentage as the sole metric.
Statistically, there are a few metrics that can be used to illustrate Walker’s defensive competency. Using fielding percentage, Walker’s worst years came in 2010 and 2012 where he had the same fielding percentage at .985. The average second baseman from those corresponding years had .984 and .985 fielding percentages, respectively, so, at worst, he’s average.
Secondly, let us compare Walker to the best defender. The 2013 Gold Glove winning second baseman was Brandon Phillips. Phillips had a .987 fielding percentage, committing only nine errors in 715 chances. Here’s a fun fact — Neil Walker posted a .989 fielding percentage, committing seven errors in 660 chances. Yes, that’s a higher fielding percentage than your Gold Glove winner.
Is this an argument that Neil Walker should be considered as a Gold Glove candidate? Not really. It is more of a justification to show how incorrect media and fans are about Walker’s defensive capabilities.
Finally, let us have a look at some of his other defensive statistics in 2013. He finished second in double plays turned with 88, assists with 397 and range factor/9 innings at 5.14. In addition, Walker finished third in overall fielding percentage at .989. Among active second basemen, he’s sixth overall in career fielding percentage.
So what’s the real reason? One theory that could hold water is that no matter the starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates at second base will always be subject to comparison to Bill Mazeroski. Mazeroski would be the answer that any fan would give when asked who the best second baseman of all time for the Pirates was, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. For most fans, they remember two main facts about Maz: 1) No player could turn a double play quicker than he could, and 2) Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series that won the Pirates the title. But is that really fair to Walker (or anyone else)? Look at Maz’s defensive statistics and compare them to Walker’s. Take double plays out of the equation (because Maz would destroy anyone in this category — quite possibly even today at his older age) and identify the player who is a statistically better defensive player. Yes, Neil Walker has a higher career fielding percentage so this point should be moot.
Similar to the Gold Glove discussion, this is not an argument about who was better. Instead, just consider these facts before you jump on the “Neil Walker stinks” bandwagon, because he’s about five points better fielding percentage than your beloved Maz.