Photo credit: By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Taijuan Walker) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
I’ll be honest and admit I’m not sure what to make of Taijuan Walker’s absolute demolition of the Angels on Tuesday night. I figured Walker had a chance to rebound before the season’s end. He was too good for too long of a stretch in 2015, and with the mechanical adjustments he made after his previous outing against the Angels on Sept. 3 — which was every bit as bad as Tuesday’s performance was spectacular — Walker seemed to be a candidate for a bounceback. But rebound, bounceback, comeback…none of these words seems like an apt description for what Walker did in his last start.
There were a lot of astounding things that Walker accomplished, but the most amazing one was getting the Angels to strike out 11 times. This is a team that has the majors’ lowest strikeout rate. Walker was able to get all of those strikeouts because he set a career high with 20 swinging strikes. In two previous starts against the Angels this season, Walker induced eight swinging strikes out of a total of 108 pitches. His splitter produced 10 of the Angels’ whiffs on Tuesday, but he had yet to have a game this season where he got more than five whiffs on that pitch (per Brooks Baseball).
In terms of astonishing feats, Walker’s 15 grounders were a close second. That was also a career high, and it’s a marked departure for someone who has been an extreme flyball pitcher over the past two years. While he had ground ball rates of at least 60 percent on each of his three main pitches (four-seamer, splitter and curve), Walker achieved his highest rate on his four-seamer. Of the 11 four-seamers the Angels put in play, 10 of them were grounders, adding up to a 90.9 percent rate. Over his previous 21 starts this season, Walker’s ground ball rate on his four-seamer was 30.0 percent.
This start represented a drastic change for Walker, and if not for the seven-start stretch he had last season where he held opponents to a .199/.221/.318 slash line, I don’t know that I could trust him over the final two weeks of this season. That prior stretch of extreme success would embolden me to start Walker in Week 25, especially since he appears to be close to a lock (such as that sort of thing exists this time of year) to make two starts.
Making the commitment to start Walker is no small thing, and not just because he could make a big difference to your title hopes. His first start will come against the Blue Jays, who are a far more dangerous opponent than the Angels. Home runs have been Walker’s biggest weakness this season, and the Blue Jays have hit more of them than any team besides the Orioles and Cardinals. His second opponent, the Twins, have been a good power-hitting team as well. Prior to Tuesday, Walker had pitched only three games all season in which he allowed more grounders than flies and liners combined, and all of them were back in April. He will need to come closer to replicating Tuesday’s performance to contain next week’s opponents.
But then again, what are your alternatives? Unless you have so much quality depth in your rotation that you haven’t relied on streaming your back-end starters, you will need to find someone to fill out your rotation who is more reliable than Walker. In my leagues, I’ve looked at one-start options like Jeremy Hellickson (at NYM) and Anthony DeSclafani (at CHC), two-start options headlined by Joe Musgrove (at OAK, vs. LAA) and A.J. Cole (at MIA, at PIT) and possible two-start option Clayton Richard (vs. ARI, and maybe vs. SF). With better matchups, I might trust Hellickson and DeSclafani more, but they’re hard to rely on with just those singular starts. Musgrove and Cole have better matchups but are unproven. Richard had been on a roll, but if he gets a rematch with the Giants next week, given how Tuesday’s outing went, I’m not any more comfortable with him than I would be with Walker.
Outside of very shallow formats, you’ll have to take some substantial risks in filling out your Week 25 rotation. I can’t say I trust Walker to a high degree, but as of now, he is looking like one of the better potential waiver options.