Neil Walker, a poor walk rate and an inflated BABIP

July 17, 2010 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America - 17 July 2010: Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker.

Neil Walker - ZumaPress

Neil Walker is having an encouraging 2010 season. He got off to a hot start in Triple-A, hitting .321/.392/.560 in 189 plate appearances. On May 25th, he was promoted to Pittsburgh and soon became the everyday second baseman. The 24-year-old has continued to hit at the major league level, posting a .307/.345/.453 line in his first 194 plate appearances. But just below the surface, there are some underlying concerns.

Walker has always battled a low walk rate, something that hindered his production during his minor league career. He showed a large improvement in that area during his time in Triple-A this season, walking in 10.1% of his 189 plate appearances.  A player’s walk rate generally stabilizes around 200 plate appearances, so it was safe to argue that the improvement was not a small sample size issue. However, that walk rate has crashed back toward his career mark upon his arrival in Pittsburgh. It currently sits at 5.7%. Connecting the dots, we see that Walker’s offense is being driven by an unsustainably high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .366. Using this Expected BABIP (xBABIP) calculator, we find that his xBABIP is just .310. When the actual number inevitably regresses down to that expected level, Walker’s overall stats are going to take a serious hit.

By removing singles from Walker’s stats until his actual .366 BABIP drops to the expected .310 mark, I was able to estimate what his numbers would look like without the inflated BABIP.

 


AVG OBP SLG wOBA BABIP
Actual .307 .345 .453 .345 .366
Adjusted .263 .304 .408 .307 .310

 

StatCorner uses a more advanced method to adjust a player’s wOBA based on batted ball data (indicated by wOBAr), and they come up with a similar .301 wOBAr for Walker.  Obviously, these adjusted numbers are much less exciting than Walker’s actual, BABIP-inflated 2010 stats. Quite simply, if he does not improve his patience and begin taking some more walks, Walker will not continue having success at the plate.

 

  • This is definitely a concern as Walker never showed great patience after 2007 until the end of last year and the beginning of this year.

    But it’s not like he’s Ronny Cedeno up there. He rarely swings at first pitches and seems to square up a ton of balls, while not swinging at too many pitches outside the zone. Could it just be a case of pitcher’s feeding him strikes that he can hit solidly, at least until they learn to not throw him too many?

    Of course my observations are not backed up by fact, but I wonder about his first pitch swing percentage, avg. pitches per at bat, and his percentage of pitches out of the zone that he swings at?

    Maybe you could look at that in a revised post about two weeks from now, just to see where he’s gone since this post…

    Good stuff as always though.

  • What bothers me about this is you seem to be all doom and gloom. The question is how is he going to adjust when the hits stop falling.

    Right now, with the way things are going, he has no need to take walks – everything is going his way. It’s when it stops going his way that the true measure of him as a ball player will come.

    He can adjust – we saw that in Indy. Of course, adjusting there and adjusting in the majors are not the same.

    I’m not saying he is going to adjust, but, unlike you, I’m not ready to write him off either.

  • Another awesome in depth look at things, although I hope his walk rate increases cause he’s so easy to root for. keep up the great work bandi!
    hows his defense been? uzr, etc.

  • Good post. I hate to say it, but Jeff Francoeur seems to be a pretty good offensive comp for Walker. Yikes.

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