The Pittsburgh Pirates were everybody’s favorites story in baseball last season because of the run they made into the National League playoffs with NL MVP Andrew McCutchen leading the way.
Expectations were raised this season, and the Pirates have not lived up to them in the early going. The Pirates lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1 at Miller Park on Sunday, and were swept in the weekend series. Kyle Lohse went 8 2-3 innings, allowed one run on four hits, no walks, and he K’d nine. The Pirates’ lone run came on a sacrifice fly by McCutchen in the fourth.
A lot of what has hurt the Pirates — even during last season — has been the weak bat of second baseman Neil Walker. Walker gets support because he was born and raised in the greater Pittsburgh area, but he does not give the Bucs enough offense to make up for his average-at-best defense. According to Baseball References’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rating, Walker is at a 0.0 total WAR, 0.1 offensive WAR and -0.1 defensive WAR this season. These three numbers make him more than replaceable. There is not a lot the Pirates can do with Walker, but at 28 years old, he should be closer to his prime rather than slipping off; this has to be a concern for management.
Walker managed a 4.0 total WAR last season, but only had a 1.2 defensive WAR. His main problem on defense is his lack of range. He will never improve his range, and that is why his offensive contributions must increase. Even if he just matched his career average of .272 and his on-base percentage of .338, he would definitely be a very complementary player to the remainder of the offense.
The Pirates have one of the best players in the MLB with McCutchen, a solid starting rotation, and a great bullpen, but if more is not offered from Walker, a trade for a middle infielder must be considered this summer.