The New York Mets saw one of their own free agents sign with a division rival on Tuesday night. Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, in what is a shakeup in the free agent starting pitching market. But initial reaction around Twitter is that the Phillies came across as desperate for starting pitching, and the Mets were wise not to show him the money.
For what it is worth, MLB Trade Rumors predicted Walker would get a four-year, $52 million contract, so Walker got $20 million more than predicted, which not only signals that the starting pitching market is thin, but teams that are going all-in are willing to overpay to get the help they need.
Taijuan Walker’s analytical numbers from his two seasons with the Mets were below average across the board.
The first thing I rushed to on the web upon Jeff Passan announcing this signing was his Baseball Savant rankings from his two seasons as a Met. And yikes was my reaction, with respect to the $18 million per season he is getting from Philadelphia.
The Mets should be thankful that he was more lucky than good in his two seasons in Flushing, especially last year. He finished at the 28th percentile in average exit velocity, 26th percentile in hard hit percentage (not a good sign with the shift being banned for next season), and 30th percentile in whiff rate (won’t be good if he has to face the Mets in the last two weeks of the season).
Walker’s normal numbers were better last season in Flushing (12-5 record, 3.49 ERA, 111 ERA+, 2.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio) than in 2021, where he appeared to lose confidence in the second half of the season and struggled to a 4.47 ERA, a 90 ERA+, and a 7-11 record.
The key to his success last year was limiting damage and getting out of jams. He held his opposition to a .143 batting average (7-for-49) with two outs and runners in scoring position in 2022. These numbers are difficult to carry over from one season to the next.
The Mets made a similar smart call last season not re-signing Marcus Stroman.
Marcus Stroman was a dependable, reliable No. 2 starter for the Mets for much of the 2021 season, pitching to a 3.02 ERA and a 133 ERA+ in that campaign, but he signed a 3-year, $71 million deal with the Chicago Cubs last winter. Many considered that an overpay, given that analytics didn't support such an investment. It wasn't until the Cubs fell out of playoff contention after the All-Star break that Stroman settled in and pitched well with the Cubs.
So this is another sign that the new-look Mets front office is only willing to invest in premium talent when analytics supported it, like what they did with Max Scherzer last winter and Justin Verlander this week. And the win-now model while retooling the farm system is a good strategy, even though the Mets' season ended earlier than anyone anticipated.