Tigers Potential Trade Target: Neil Walker


Scouring the rosters of other major league teams, I have continued to identify guys the Tigers could potentially target in the trade market. I’ve focused mainly on their utility to the Tigers, and the potential that they could conceivably be dealt by their current team as well.

Today, I look at my second consecutive 2nd baseman in Neil Walker……

Neil Walker is a 26 year old switch hitting batter, who mainly plays 2nd base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Walker, has played some 3rd base as well, but doesn’t profile offensively as well there. In 2011, according to Fangraphs, Walker accumulated a WAR of 3.0, which is above average and ranked 4th in the National League. Walker is coming off of a 2011 which saw a dip in some of his offensive numbers, however, he did spend most of the season in the middle of a struggling Pirate batting order.

Positives:

The main thing to like about Walker is that he is a solid offensive contributor for a 2nd baseman. This past season, Walker hit just 12 home runs, but drove in 83 runs while posting an OPS of .742. In 2010, Walker posted an OPS of .811 and finished 5th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Walker does have a BB rate of just 8.2% this past season, but he doesn’t strike out a ton either at 16.9% of his plate appearances. Plus, as a bonus, he can play every day as a switch hitter.

Walker is also versatile defensively. He can play both 2B and 3B, and actually does a little bit better at the hot corner defensively, where his range is less of a factor. The Tigers are in need of a player at both positions, so if the Tigers were to pursue Walker, they could potentially limit the number of players they would have to acquire by getting Walker.

Lastly, but certainly not least important, Walker is cheap financially. He isn’t arbitration eligible until 2013, and doesn’t become a free agent until 2017. With that type of team control, he could be an asset to the Tigers for several years at a more than fair price.

Negatives:

Defense. While Walker isn’t horrible out there, as mentioned earlier, his offensive game profiles better at 2B, where he is a pedestrian defender. He lacks a little bit of range for the position, and ideally, with Jhonny Peralta at SS, the Tigers would look for a more active 2nd baseman. His hands are solid, but his arm is average, and he can have trouble turning the double play at times.

Inter-league performance. It is just over 100 at-bats, so it’s a relatively small sample, but Walker has performed poorly against American League pitching over his career. He bats just .217 with an OPS of .612. It’s always a concern when bringing a player to a different league, and especially when you see numbers like that.

Availability:

I don’t think Walker would be an impossible player to grab from Pittsburgh at this point, but it could be a little tough. Like Kendrick of the Angels, who I looked at previously, Walker’s offense is important to his current club. Pittsburgh does however have it’s share of options on that team with Brandon Wood, Pedro Ciriaco, Josh Harrison, and Chase d’Arnaud all vying for time in the middle of the infield. Pittsburgh also has a need for some starting pitching, and Walker is a guy they could use to obtain that.

Neil Huntington doesn’t appear to be a guy that is afraid to wheel and deal a little bit, and with the sophomore slump in numbers that Walker had, it’s possible the Pirates believe his 2011 is more the norm.

Verdict:

Walker would be an obvious upgrade to the Tigers offensively at a position where they have struggled the last couple seasons. Think of a Scott Sizemore (Oakland version) type player OPS wise (.778), who doesn’t walk as much, but doesn’t strike out nearly as much either. Plus, you get the added bonus of a Walker being a switch-hitter.

While the Tigers would have to put up with some uninspiring defense, they could always substitute in the late innings as they saw fit. Walker’s offense at the position makes him intriguing enough that he would certainly be worth a look. If the price is right, I say go for it.

Tags: Brandon Wood Detroit Tigers Josh Harrison Neil Huntington Neil Walker Pedro Ciriaco Pittsburgh Pirates

  • mnbengal

    Tigers should offer Porcello straight up for Walker and see what they say, if they want more we could throw in somebody from Erie not named Smyly or Crosby.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      I wouldn’t give them more than Porcello straight up personally, but I would consider a straight up deal. Though I would shop Porcello for multiple guys first.

  • Sam Genson

    Wow, evidently Porcello’s stock has really fallen with some people. I like Walker, but I really don’t want to hear about the Walker/Kelly relationship on EVERY broadcast…

    • MCBjohnverburg

      The solution to that would be to just dump Kelly. Haha.

    • mnbengal

      @Sam Genson I think Porcello is going to be around a .500 pitcher every year with an ERA between 4.50-5.00 so his value is not really higher than a 4th starter – pedestrian stuff with low K totals = average pitcher

  • Norman

    Interesting… went through Walker’s defensive stats today, and everything I’ve heard is very negative… but then, he’s among the league leaders in fld%. Okay, that’s a misleading stat, so I look deeper. Among regular starters, he’s tops in putouts and putouts per game. (This is all MLB, not just NL, as are all that follows) He’s 5th in assists and 7th in assists per game. He’s 1st in total DPs and 3rd in DPs turned per game. He’s 6th in ground ball DPs started, and 6th in ground ball DPs started per game. Is there a problem that is not showing up in the stats, or has he improved and perception has not caught up with reality? It’s an honest question because I seriously don’t know and have never seen him play. Everything I hear tells me he’s a below average 2B defensively- and that is seriously unanimous- but these numbers don’t look too bad.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @Norman His range is what hurts him at 2B, but you are correct on his traditional defensive stats. The putouts can just be a function of his chances as can the double plays, etc…

      Plus there is a little bit of labeling going on here. Despite evidence to the contrary, most Tigers fans think Scott Sizemore was terrible at 2B last year, and that just isn’t the case. Sizemore was always a solid defender at 2B, but nothing special. Same goes for Walker.

      I called him pedestrian simply because he can make the plays he gets to, but he isn’t going to be an above average defender there that makes above average plays.

      • Norman

        @MCBjohnverburg You were more complimentary of his defensive skills than anyone else I’ve seen, so I really have no issue with you calling him pedestrian (average). I don’t even have an issue with the many people who call him a liability. I haven’t seen him play at all, I was just confused by his traditional stats looking better than I expected. Safe to say he’s become average, then? Last year was I believe his first as a second baseman and he really struggled. This year he progressed pretty nicely?Is there any stat that can give e a good read on range? Walker’s RF/9 is an MLB 5th best 5.05, but like you said, this can be skewed by having balls hit right at him. Having a good SS that involves him in a lot of plays can boost his assists and hence his RF/9 too, cuoldn’t it? Cedeno also has a high RF/(, but unlike Walker his total zone and defensive runs saved numbers are positive.

        Is there a site that eschews numbers and gives scout/expert assessments?I do look at Tango Tigers scouting database for a general guide but winder how much weight to give it (Walker gets a slightly above average 53 there).All that being said, if he is a decent 2B who can put up above position average numbers, I’d like him. Given his limited range, though, I guess we shouldn’t expect more improvement? But if we already have a steady hands/poorish range guy at SS who we are trying to improve with superior positioning, maybe another guy like that at 2nd is a bad idea?I’m intrigued Lombardozzi, think we match up well with the Nats for trades, and hope we can get him (or Espinosa). Think I’d be fine with Walker, though.

        • MCBjohnverburg

          @Norman I’ve seen Walker quite a few times over the past couple years. Defensively, I feel like using some of the metrics out there have to be coupled with the eye test and scouting,and maybe that is why Im more kind. It seems to me there are more flaws in the advanced defensive metrics than the offensive ones, but I do use UZR as a general base to compare guys to their peers. There could be a variety of factors that would help along an improvement from one year to the next, including the seasons that others at that position are having. That being said UZR is probably the best thing we have right now to measure defense. I would submit that Walker is probably somewhere between his past two seasons defensively, and that would point to a guy below average. By my eye test, he lacks a little bit of ideal quickness and footwork for 2nd but makes accurate throws with a solid arm. That isn’t all that bad considering the bat he brings to the table. I actually believe he fits better defensively at 3B.

          All I know is, I would like for the Tigers to upgrade the position one way or another.

        • Norman

          @MCBjohnverburg Thanks immeasurably. All of this tracks with the scouting reports submitted to tangotigerDOTnet, which I will start weighing very highly: Walker got 46/100 for reaction there, 38 for acceleration, and 47 for sprint speed. Everything else is high 50′s. Your eye test matches there’s to a tee.

          I’m trying to improve my knowledge of the players and have been putting together a top 8 defensively at each position. Walker was one of 14 guys who passed my first screen and had some nice numbers in the deceptive stats, so what you have said really helped me with my final list: Brandon Phillips, Cincy; Dustin Pedroia, BOS; Ian Kinsler, TEX; Chase Utley, Philly; Ben Zobrist, TB; Omar Infante, FLA; Robinson Cano, NYY. Up and comer: Danny Espinosa.

          Thanks again!

        • MCBjohnverburg

          @Norman You know whats strange, I am aware of TangoTiger and the work he has done in the advanced metrics, but I’ve never visited the site. Like I say, I use these metrics as a tool, but to me, given the issues with them including positioning and luck of where balls are actually hit within that zone, it could askew stats, which is why they should be taken as a general guide over a period of years, as well as taking scouting into account.

          Can’t argue with any of your choices. At least off of the top of my head. I haven’t seen Jemile Weeks play much, and I don’t think there is much arm there, and some hands issues, but his range could be alright down the road. Same with Dustin Ackley. You have a good athlete who could register some good range numbers in the future. Plus Ackley is still learning and likely to get better. I don’t think either is quite top 8 yet.

          A veteran you have left off the list that strikes me as a pretty good defender is Howie Kendrick, but I imagine he was in the 14?

          Anyway, good luck. Hope you keep checking the site out, and I am glad my analysis of Neil Walker didn’t make me look like a boob! Haha.

        • Norman

          @MCBjohnverburg Howie Kendrick! He did make my cut, Him, Gordon Beckham, and Mark Ellis all tied with a score of 66 here: http://www.tangotiger.net/scout/, so I threw my hands up and only picked 7, with Espinosa as the up and comer (I didn’t want to put him on the main list because of a below league average fld%; I’m sure that will improve).

          I agree with you on using the advanced stats as a guide, another arrow in the quiver, and not as a final word. This section of the tangotiger site is a place for fans to submit their subjective opinions on defensive abilities and is not stat driven at all, so I find it very interesting. I think they must have a very knowledgeable readership, because in the few days I’ve been looking at it, it has tracked very well with the “scouts say” eyeball reports that I am sometimes able to find on individual players through web searches.

          PS, I will keep checking the site out, and damnit damnit damnit, I meant to say that having a good SS would boost a 2B’s PO’s, sot his assists!!! Give me a 50/50 chance on anything and I invariably have a brain freeze.