We're hours removed from the Mets' 5-3 victory over Cincinnati last night and all of New York is buzzing about Neil Walker, the second baseman who hit another big home run for his new team last night. Coming over in a trade with Pittsburgh during the offseason, Walker was tasked with replacing the beloved Daniel Murphy, who only hit seven home runs during New York's postseason run of 2015.
It didn't help Walker to earn respect from fans when that former Mets second baseman got off to a torrid start in 2016, hitting .397/.465/.635 for the rival Nationals. Walker, though, has countered with his own streak of brilliance, hitting .301/.320/.630 with eight home runs. That's pretty incredible when you consider that he hit 16 home runs all of last year for Pittsburgh and none at all as a right-handed batter. This year from the right side, Walker is 7-for-11 with three home runs. In fact, he's hitting a pedestrian .242/.266/.484 from the left side, which has been considered his much stronger side for his career.
Even if Walker did make an adjustment to his right-handed batting technique, and even if it's working out wonderfully, something doesn't add up. In his first 75 plate appearances of the year, the switch hitter has walked just three percent of the time while striking out 23 percent of the time. Both marks would be career worsts for him if they hold up for the rest of the season. It's not easy for anyone to best a career high in home runs (Walker's current mark is 23 home runs in 2014) while playing so far below your career standards in both walks and strikeouts.
We all know that Walker is probably not going to continue hitting home runs at this pace, but when he inevitably cools off, it will be important for his walk and strikeout rates to improve to around eight percent and 17 percent, respectively. If they don't, Mets fans could have another John Buck or Rod Barajas on their hands instead of a player who we expect to be useful for the entire year, even if he isn't quite as heroic as he's been in April.
Other things to watch for tonight
- Michael Conforto (whose walk and strikeout rates are super sexy, by the way) has looked awesome batting third for the Mets, but tonight the team faces a left-handed starter in Brandon Finnegan for just the second time this season. Since Conforto is playing too well to remove from the lineup entirely, it will be interesting to see if Terry Collins leaves him be or moves him down in the order.
- Bartolo Colon is also off to a hot start this year with over eight strikeouts per nine innings and his usual tiny walk rate. What's odd this season is that he's having a much easier time against lefties than righties. Can that trend continue against talented bats like Jay Bruce and Joey Votto?
- Travis d'Arnaud is hurt once again. With Kevin Plawecki likely to get the starting nod in his absence, will the sophomore backstop improve over his uninspiring rookie campaign?