When the Mets signed free agent Taijaun Walker to a two-year, $20 million contract in February 2021, it had the chance to be a great signing for the team. After bouncing around from Seattle to Arizona and Toronto, Walker was looking to establish consistency in a new home. Through the first half of the 2021 season, it looked like that and much more for Walker.
After injuries had plagued Walker for so much of his career, the 29-year-old surprised everyone in Queens, pitching to a 2.66 ERA in the first half. This stellar performance from Walker earned him his first All-Star game appearance, where he pitched an inning at Coors Field.
The second half of 2021 was the polar opposite of the first half, as Walker came crashing back down to earth and then some. Walker made 13 starts in the second half, posting an ERA over 7, while pitching just 64.1 innings total. This had a dramatic effect on Walker’s overall numbers for 2021, as he finished with an ERA 4.47 and a FIP of 4.57, while throwing 159 innings.
When the Mets signed Max Scherzer before the lockout and then traded for A’s pitcher Chris Bassitt after the lockout, Walker became a key piece at the backend of the Mets’ rotation.
Now, in light of Jacob deGrom’s injury and the unknowns surrounding deGrom’s timetable for a return, Walker is even more important to the Mets’ success and chances for contention this year.
Going into the 2022 season, Walker is coming off an injury of his own. When spring training broke, manager Buck Showalter revealed Walker had offseason knee surgery in January to to remove damaged tissue. Because of this surgery, Walker started off the spring a little bit behind the rest of his counterparts, but has now seemingly caught up. After throwing 54 pitches in a spring game against the Marlins just last week, and posting 3.2 scoreless innings, Walker appears ready for the 2022 season.
The projections for Walker have him putting up similar numbers to his 2021 campaign. ZiPS has Walker posting 132 innings this season with 4.43 ERA and a 4.50 FIP, along with a 1.3 WAR. Being a backend starter, these numbers for Walker would not be horrible, especially with what figures to be a potent Mets’ offense playing behind him every five days.
With the deGrom injury, and not too much depth behind him, it will be very important for Walker to stay healthy this season and shoot for making 30 starts in the rotation. That, along with some consistency, could go along way for Walker and the team in establishing themselves as the top team in the National League East.