In late February, the New York Mets signed Taijuan Walker to a three-year $23 million-dollar deal. The third year is a player option worth $6 million dollars. Walker was signed with the expectation of being a back end of the rotation starter with upside. Last season with Seattle and Toronto, Walker pitched to a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts.
It was a tale of two halves for Taijuan Walker. In the first half, he was unbelievable. He went 7-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 17 appearances. This outstanding first half led to Walker making his first all-star team. Walker had a 9.0 K/9 and allowed just six home runs in 94.2 innings pitched.
With Walker pitching like an all-star, the Mets were sitting in first place for a majority of the first half.
The second half was a whole other story. Walker went 0-8 with a 7.13 ERA in 13 second-half starts. His strikeout rate went from 9.0 K/9 to 7.1 K/9. The most shocking stat of all was the increase in home runs.
After allowing six home runs in 94.2 innings in the first half, Walker allowed 20 home runs in 64.1 innings pitched. The increase in home runs is unfathomable. Walker’s velocity stayed pretty consistent throughout the season so it’s hard to know exactly what happened in the second half with Walker.
One thing that is important to point out is Walker has a pretty brutal injury history. He had not pitched more than 53 innings in a season since 2017.
The 30 appearances he made this season set a career-high for Walker and the 159 innings pitched were just 10 innings shy of his career-high from back in 2015.
In all likelihood, Walker was probably exhausted down the stretch. Walker threw over 100 more innings than he did last season. The Mets built a lot of rotation depth with guys like Joey Lucchesi and David Peterson probably to figure out a way to skip some starts to keep Walker fresh down the stretch.
Unfortunately, the Mets dealt with a slew of injuries in their rotation and had to rely on Walker to give them innings. It’s safe to say that did not end well.
Next season, Walker should definitely be given a shot at the back end of the rotation. The Mets have a ton of question marks in the rotation, to begin with.
Will Jacob deGrom be healthy? What’s going to happen with Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman? Should Tylor Megill be in the rotation? With all of the uncertainty, I believe Walker has to be in the rotation as a fourth or fifth starter.
Will he be the all-star he was in the first half? Probably not. Will he be the atrocious second-half pitcher he was in the second half? I sure hope not. I assume Walker will fit in somewhere in the middle.
Overall, he went 7-11 with a 4.47 ERA this season. That’s passable as a fifth starter. Hopefully, the fact that he stayed relatively healthy this season and pitched over 150 innings will mean he can hold up better next season.
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The Mets really don’t have much of a choice to not include him in the rotation. Hopefully, they can add even more depth so if Walker shows signs of breaking down again, they have someone to take a spot start in his place.