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Getting to know Taijuan Walker

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The Mets’ solution to their rotation equation.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

This morning, the Mets got their last major piece of their rotation equation, agreeing to sign Taijuan Walker to a two-year deal with a player option for a third year with $23 million in guaranteed money. The Mets’ rotation needed one more solid back-end piece, and they got that in Walker, who is coming off one of the best seasons of his career thus far. And if he can get over his injury issues and unlock even a little more of the potential he once had, he could become a very important piece of the Mets’ rotation for the next two or three seasons.

Walker began his journey to the majors in the 2010 MLB draft—the same draft that produced his new rotation-mates Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard—being drafted in the supplemental first round by the Seattle Mariners, with the 43rd overall pick. He was one of the Mariners’ top prospects and one of the top prospects in all of baseball, ranking in the top twenty on the Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com lists in 2012 and moving up a few spots before the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Walker pitched at the major league level for parts of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Mariners, pitching well in each of them. He had a 3.60 ERA and 2.25 FIP in three games in 2013. And he had a 2.61 ERA and 3.68 FIP in his eight games in 2014. His first full season with the Mariners came in 2015, and he struggled a bit, posting a 4.56 ERA, 4.07 FIP, and was worth 1.2 bWAR. He had a 118 ERA-, which is adjusted for ballpark and league, making him a below average pitcher that year.

In 2016, Walker’s injury problems began. He spent he first half of the season with a foot injury, and he ended up on the injured list twice because of it. Despite that, he didn’t have an awful first half, posting a 3.66 ERA and accumulating 80 strikeouts over 86 innings. He was optioned to Triple-A in the second half for a few games and ended the season with a 4.22 ERA and a 4.99 FIP.

After the 2016 season the Mariners traded Walker, along with Ketel Marte, to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Walker’s 2017 season with the Diamondbacks was his best yet, with a 3.49 ERA, 4.04 FIP, and was worth 2.6 bWAR. He had a 76 ERA-, a much better than league average mark. It looked like he might be turning into the player he was posed to become.

In 2018, however, things went south quickly. Just a few weeks into the season, after Walker had started only 3 games, he was placed on the injured list with right forearm tightness. Within a few days, the tightness turned out to be a partial UCL tear, and he needed Tommy John surgery. He didn’t return until the end of the 2019 season, pitching an inning in the final game of the Diamondbacks’ season. After the season, he was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks.

In early February 2020, the Mariners signed Walker to a one-year contract worth $2 million, bringing him back where he started. While he was with the Mariners, he played to his usual level of production, with a 4.00 ERA and 4.97 FIP. But when they traded him midseason to the Toronto Blue Jays, he found a new gear, putting up a 1.37 ERA in six starts for the Blue Jays.

Walker’s projected stats for the upcoming season aren’t anything to write home about, with ZiPS projecting him to have a 4.41 ERA and a 4.70 FIP. So now Walker comes to the Mets, figuring to be their fourth starter, at least until Noah Syndergaard comes back. If he matches his best performance, the Mets could have a scary rotation. But even if he remains the Taijuan Walker he’s usually been, as long as he avoids any cataclysmic injuries, the Mets’ rotation should be in fine shape.