Appreciating Taijuan Walker's Resurgence

Jake leads the way and Stro holds down the two-hole, but Tai Walker has been the glue

Over the last eight weeks or so, the goal for these New York Mets has been to keep their heads above water until the denizens of injured return to their roster.

They’ve accomplished that facet of the objective in spades so far, but the journey isn’t over yet. In order to continue shocking the baseball world, the Mets will need what’s worked for them to keep on working.

Sure, every roster replacement that finds his way into the lineup has produced at one point or another — it’s truly been a family affair — and the consistent replication of those moments will certainly take a team far.

Should this level of next-man-up magic continuing be expected? Maybe. They’ve done all that’s been asked of them so far. And keeping this boat afloat until, one by one, the Mets are made whole again isn’t as far-fetched a notion as it was last month.

Jeff McNeil, Luis Guillorme, and Albert Almora are inching closer to returns. Michael Conforto is, hopefully, not too far behind them. Slowly but surely, friends.

But the ReplaceMets haven’t done this alone. Without the Mets’ impenetrable pitching staff, there’s no telling where this caravan might be by now. The rotation, alone, has been a godsend.

Jacob deGrom is as close to a sure thing as there is in the universe. The sun will rise and set daily, and Jake will dominate when his turn in the rotation comes up. You can practically set your clock to it.

When deGrom hit the injured list last month with right-side tightness, this group didn’t miss a beat. Entering Thursday, the Mets rotation’s 2.88 ERA leads the majors. That doesn’t happen alone.

Marcus Stroman has been every bit the number-two the Mets have needed, backing up his unbreakable mindset with upper-echelon production behind deGrom.

Joey Lucchesi’s made apparent progress and David Peterson’s still finding his way. But the glue of this Metsies rotation has been in the middle of the pack.

It’s probably a good thing that right-hander Taijuan Walker is 6’4”, 235 lbs. Putting this team on his back every five days hasn’t been an issue in the least for the hulking right-hander.

Walker was a driving force once again on Wednesday in the Mets’ 14-1 win over the Orioles.

With his seven innings of one-run ball in Baltimore, striking out nine with a walk, Walker’s now the proud owner of the sixth-best earned run average in baseball (2.07) and the least home runs allowed per nine (0.30; two in 61 IP) among all qualified MLB hurlers.

Not too shabby for a mid-camp addition, no?

There was certainly an allure to the 28-year-old’s signing. A former top pick of Seattle (43rd overall, 2010), Walker enjoyed a resurgent 2020 (2.70 ERA in 11 starts) after making just four starts in total between 2018 and 2019.

Adding capable depth was surely the catalyst behind the signing, which in the absences of Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard (both ongoing) was almost necessitated, but Walker’s been much, much more than that. Clearly.

After the game on Wednesday, Walker spoke about the success he’s found and the benefit of keeping opposing hitters on their heels with an array of weapons to throw their way.

“I think having both four and two seams, it’s kinda hard for hitters to sit on one of them because I can throw both for strikes and when I mix both of them in it’s kinda hard for them to look all over the plate for a four-seam ‘cause I can run a two-seam in on their hands.”

He’s correct on both accounts, there. Per Statcast, Walker’s been pounding the zone with both fastballs and, in turn, it’s opened the door for his secondary pitches to flourish.

His four-seam has held hitters to a .169/.221/.359 slash against this year and his sinker is being touched up at a .260/.326/.320 rate. Effective enough, but that’s just the start.

The four-seam outpaces the two-seam, for sure. And, as Walker intimated, both can be used in different situations with different intentions.

But while batters are differentiating between his two mid-90s heaters, it allows his slider (.152/.166/.196), splitter (.176/.256/.235), and curveball — which he hasn’t allowed a base hit off this season — to slam doors harder than my 16-year-old daughter.

As for the direction this team is heading — which would likely be undetermined if not for the Mets’ rotation (and staff as a whole; 3.15 ERA is second in MLB to San Diego’s 2.96) — Walker, like the rest of us, is wholly encouraged.

“I think we’re playing great baseball. You know, with everything we’ve had going on, a lot of injures and stuff, guys are just coming in and stepping up in a big way,” he said. “Especially after a day like [Tuesday], that we weren’t our sharpest, to bounce back like that and end the road trip on a high note like that says a lot about our team.”

Onward, family.

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