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.
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.