Taijuan Walker is exactly the type of bounce-back pitching candidate the Royals should be considering for their rotation in 2020.
Taijuan Walker has had some serious injury issues over the last two seasons. In 2018 he only threw 13 innings before missing the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He would then miss almost the entirety of the 2019 season due to complications and other injuries while attempting to come back. And he is exactly the kind of arm the Royals should sign for 2020.
I know those injury issues are real. Only throwing 14 innings over the last 2 seasons is a legitimate concern. Arizona dumping him rather than paying a measly 5 million dollars to a pitcher entering his prime years seems like a red flag.
But Walker did come back and pitch an inning at the end of 2019. An inning is certainly not enough to make any judgments. But it does show me that the Diamondbacks believed he was healthy enough to go and that Walker himself was determined enough to go out and throw in a meaningless game to prove he was ready to pitch again.
Taijuan Walker is now considered, by many, to be a once highly sought-after prospect who never truly panned out. But I would consider that characterization unfair. He has thrown 519 innings as a starter. He has struck out over 8 per 9 innings and walked less than 3. His FIP over those innings is 4.24. He will only be 27 years old this season. That is a good pitcher.
Walker’s worst season in the majors was 2016. Over 25 starts that year his FIP was barely under 5. He struck out barely 8 batters per 9 innings and pitched just under the league average. So, in his worst season, he was essentially Jakob Junis. That is his worst-case scenario.
The last full season that Taijuan Walker pitched was 2017. He was 24 years old. He started 28 games. His FIP was 4.04, his ERA was 3.49, and he had the highest strikeout rate of his career. His groundball rate was 49 percent. He pitched 35 percent better than league average. You can see in the video below how good he can be using his breaking ball behind his fastball.
Taijuan Walker struck out 10 over 5 scoreless innings to help the #Dbacks get their 8th straight W.
Posted by Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, September 1, 2017
Walker is available now because the Diamondbacks think of him as a prospect they mistakenly traded for that became nothing. But, again, in my opinion, that is incorrect. Over the season in Arizona that he remained healthy it appeared that not only was he a good pickup but that he was young and improving.
Yes, he has had some worrisome injury issues over the last two seasons. But if that was not the case a pitcher of Taijuan Walker’s career numbers and 94 MPH fastball would not even be considering the type of money the Royals normally pay. These are the types of young players the Royals need to be pursuing.
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It is possible that Taijuan Walker never fully regains his abilities as a starting pitcher. Maybe he spends his career as a mediocre fifth starter. Maybe he becomes a bullpen piece or a long reliever. But if he can be had for a few million bucks on a short-term deal it is stupid of the Royals not to consider him. We gave almost 260 innings to Jorge Lopez and Glenn Sparkman last season. What do we have to lose?