Just How Good is Neil Walker?

People are starting to call Neil Walker one of the premier second basemen in baseball.  I wanted to see the statistical proof of this, so I went to Baseball-Reference.  I spent about 15 minutes looking for positional averages until I stumbled upon it.  After the jump are some comparisons of Neil Walker to the MLB average.

The league average batting average for second basemen is .260.  Neil Walker’s batting average was .273, so his batting average increases by 13 points, or 5%.  The MLB average on base percentage was .320, but Neil’s was above that by 14 points, at .334, or 4.4%.  The average slugging average in the MLB in 2011 was .389.  This statistic is the largest differential for Neil, at 19 points.  However, that is just a 4.9% change, less proportionally than batting average.

League wide, not looking at position, the league average was .255, Walker’s deviation was +5.5%.  The OBP was .321, so the change was about the same (4.04%).  The MLB average SLG was .399, so his .408 slugging average is 2.25% above average.  He may be one of the best gap-hitting second basemen in the MLB, hitting 36 doubles, which is good for 9th in the National League.

Sadly, he’s not the All-Star slugging second baseman we thought we had in 2010, so he’s probably suffering from Garrett Jones Disease.  In 2010, he burst onto the spot after Akinori Iwamura resembled a traffic cone both at the plate and in the field.  Walker hit .296/.349/.462 in his first 110 games as a Pirate and dipped off to .273/.334/.408 slash line.  That’s not to say that his 2011 stats weren’t impressive, because they were.  For the first time since before Freddie Sanchez, we have a guy who is above average in all three categories of batting average, on base, and slugging average.

As far as fielding goes,  he’s not bad, he’s just below average.  In 2010, it was painful to watch him botch the second base position.  In 2010, he had an RZR of .749.  RZR, or Revised Zone Rating, is the measurement for how many balls hit into somebody’s zone that are turned into outs, and it also includes outs on balls out of the zone in the calculation and doesn’t give fielders extra credit for double plays.  In 2011, his RZR was .800.  A 51 point rise in his RZR means that he greatly improved on being able to get to balls hit near him.  Walker’s UZR/150 in 2010 was -17.1.  UZR/150 is the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games (courtesy: Fangraphs).  His UZR/150 this past season was -2.5.  A 14.6 point change in Walker’s UZR/150 is absolutely amazing, and his defense cost the Pirates less runs.  The Pirates’ Pythagorean record, which is calculated using runs scored and runs scored against, with Walker’s -2.5 runs this year was 70-92.  Had Walker kept his UZR/150 up (or down), it would have been 68-94.  Not a big difference, but 2 losses caused by one person is pretty incredible.



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