As I struggled to drink my coffee in a 48-degree living room on a February Friday morning in a home with a busted heating system, the New York Mets gave me a pleasant piece of good news. They agreed to a deal with free agent starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, answering some important questions we were all contemplating about the pitching staff.
There are still a few questions. Namely, exactly who will fill out the starting five when the season begins?
That’s a question for another day, in another place. Instead, on this Monday morning with my home’s heating system blazing like a Noah Syndergaard fastball at Trevor Bauer, I want to take a look at all of the upside with the Taijuan Walker deal.
Mets landed a pitcher going places
There’s a lot to like about this signing. Walker is 28, a former first-round pick for a reason, and coming off of a productive 11-start season. Although his inability to stay healthy is definitely a concern, Walker could be one of the best late-bloomers in the game.
About to enter his ninth MLB season, it’s amazing how young Walker still is. He won’t celebrate his 29th birthday until August which puts him on the right side of 30 for anyone hoping he has yet to reach his ceiling. Based on how his career has gone, I believe his head still has space to go up.
In his three seasons with 25+ starts from 2015-2017, Walker pretty average. He had ERAs of 4.56, 4.22, and 3.49. It was a nice trend downward. It seemed as if he might end up becoming exactly what the Seattle Mariners had hoped when they drafted him in the first round.
Unfortunately, Tommy John Surgery bit Walker in 2018 while he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He made only 3 starts that season and one more the following year in 2019. Walker returned to Seattle after the season and wrapped up 2020 with the Toronto Blue Jays with some excellent numbers.
In his half-dozen Blue Jays starts, Walker was 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA. Combined with his Seattle totals, Walker ended the year at 4-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts.
Walker appears to have rebounded well from Tommy John Surgery. The Mets are the team hoping to capitalize on a healthy and still young talent who has yet to reach his prime—or so we can hope.
What can Walker give the Mets?
It’s difficult to truly know what Walker will be with the Mets in 2021. With only 15 starts post-2017, it’s a tough measure.
Walker has, however, managed to avoid getting obliterated in any season he has pitched regardless of the total number of innings. His career-worst ERA is the 4.56 posted in 2015. He managed to win a personal-best 11 games that year and did end the year with a 4.09 FIP to suggest he may have been a victim of some occasional bad luck.
Unable to pinpoint exactly what Walker will be in his first year with the Mets, we can safely say he gives them an upgrade. His presence could allow for one of the guys expected to compete for the fifth starter role to slide into the bullpen where the team could still use a little help.
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Walker isn’t flashy or out there hawking t-shirts of his personal brand. He comes to the Mets with a different mission. It includes pitching well over these next two seasons and earning himself an even better deal after.