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Exploring Taijuan Walker’s early success with the Mets

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Walker is looking good and generating swings-and-misses in the process.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It is extremely early in the 2021 season, especially since the Mets have played just seven games, but the team has to be happy with what it’s seen from Taijuan Walker in his first two starts of the year.

Walker has a 2.61 ERA and 2.27 FIP across his 10.1 innings as a Met, and he’s struck out 12 batters. The only downside so far is that he’s issued five walks, three of which came in his four-and-one-third inning start in the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader against the Phillies. If not for seven-inning games in doubleheaders still being a thing this year, maybe he would have been given the opportunity to get a bit deeper into the game.

In these two starts, Walker has struck out 29.3 percent of opposing hitters, a mark significantly higher than his career rate of 21.5 percent. And he has a 12.0 percent swinging strike rate—the percentage of all pitches thrown that result in a swinging strike—a few points above his career 9.3 percent rate.

It’s reasonable to expect those numbers to regress toward his career norms as the season plays out, but it’s worth noting that Walker has averaged just over 95 miles per hour on his fastball so far this year, something he hasn’t done in a single season since 2014 and a noticeable increase from the 93 miles per hour he averaged post-Tommy John surgery in 2019 and 2020.

Per Statcast, Walker has thrown five pitches this year, with the following usage breakdown:

  • four-seam fastball, 35.6 percent
  • slider, 31.0 percent
  • sinker, 21.8 percent
  • split finger, 6.9 percent
  • curveball, 4.6 percent

And three of those pitches have been successful in generating swings-and-misses by whiff percentage, the rate of opposing hitters’ swings that result in a swing-and-miss: his slider at 36.4 percent, his splitter at 33.3 percent, and his fastball at 26.4 percent. Let’s take a look at those whiffs in action, starting with the slider.

Walker’s first start of the year came against the Marlins, and here, he was ahead of Jesús Aguilar 1-2 before throwing his slider down and away, inducing a swing from Aguilar to strike him out.

As for the splitter, which the SNY booth has referred to as a split-change during Walker’s outings, Walker got to 2-2 on left-handed hitter Didi Gregorius yesterday afternoon and dropped a nasty one that got the Gregorius to whiff badly for the strikeout.

The way that pitch moves, you’d expect him to use it against lefties, but he’s used it against right-handed hitters, too. Here’s Rhys Hoskins coming up empty on a 1-2 splitter from Walker yesterday.

And fellow righty Brian Anderson of the Marlins looked pretty similar during Walker’s first start when Walker threw him a 1-2 splitter that really moved.

And not to pick on Hoskins here, but after Walker got him with the splitter in the first inning yesterday afternoon, he finished him off with a 96.8 mile per hour fastball in the top of the third.

Sure, it’s only two starts and 10.1 innings of work for Walker so far with the Mets, but there’s a lot to like here. As the season progresses, it’ll be interesting to see if he maintains the type of fastball velocity he’s shown so far and how often he breaks out the split-change, which has been a rare but effective weapon for him in the early going.