Now in his fifth full season at the big league level, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker has established himself as a fairly pedestrian hitter, putting up adequate offensive numbers for a middle infielder. However, the early part of 2014 has seen Walker accumulate some surprising home run and RBI totals from the No. 2 spot in the Pirates’ lineup.
Although Walker did not go deep in a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday afternoon, he is currently tied with third baseman Pedro Alvarez for the Pirates’ team lead in homers with eight. In addition, Walker is second to Alvarez in RBIs with 23, providing unexpected production from the top part of the lineup for the Pirates. While Walker has displayed some pop in the past, this level of power is unprecedented for the 28-year-old second baseman, leaving many observers to wonder if it can possibly continue.
Entering the 2014 season, Walker’s previous career high in homers was 16, a mark established last season. Ironically enough, this power was accompanied by a substantial dip in batting average, as Walker hit a mere .251 after batting .280 in 2012. While his batting average currently sits at .265, Walker is already halfway to his career high in homers in only 151 at-bats, which is a pretty significant development.
These homers have come with RBI production as well, and if Walker can maintain his current pace and play a full season, he has a chance to break his previous RBI high of 83, established in 2011. Of course, this surprising burst of power could very well be an anomaly for Walker. While he should surpass his career high in homers, it is highly unlikely that he will be able to maintain his current offensive pace.
It has been noted that Walker does not provide enough offense to justify his league-average defense. However, it is possible that Walker is now figuring something out at 28 years old and that the early results of 2014 are a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, it is just as likely that this increased production is a temporary development and that Walker will revert back to his career norms shortly. While Walker will remain useful to the Pirates, I suspect the other shoe will be dropping soon.