October 6, 2022

D-backs’ Christian Walker having career year despite misleading average

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PHOENIX — Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

But over the course of a 162-game Major League Baseball season, the averages and percentages will tend to even out.

Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker is having an unlucky year in terms of how many batted balls he’s barreled up that are hit right at opposing fielders and go down in the scorebook the exact same way a weakly-hit ball would.

Walker is in the midst of the best slugging percentage (.479) season of his career while simultaneously having the worst batting average (.223) campaign in a D-backs uniform (minimum 50 at-bats).

The 31-year-old is also on pace to have a career year in home runs and RBIs, with his tally at 29 dingers going into Friday, tying his career high in 2019. His ribbie total of 69 also trails his 73 from that same season.

“He’s a very passionate baseball player,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said pregame on Friday.

“He’s a very, very good hitter and understands the working aspects of the swing and he’s just trying to constantly perfect that. He’s as hard of a worker as I’ve ever been around and it’s starting to translate.”

But when you factor in Walker’s .514 expected SLG and .373 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) — both of which rank in the top 6% of the league — as well as his .255 expected BA, you’ll realize that the D-backs first baseman is having an extraordinary year at the plate despite his .223 average saying otherwise.

xwOBA is calculated by using exit velocity, launch angle and sprint speed on certain types of batted balls.

And while Walker may not be a speedster on the basepaths, he is in the midst of his most effective season with at least 50 at-bats in launch angle (18 degrees) and barrel percentage (14.1%), plus a career-low 19% strikeout percentage.

He also has a 89.9 mph average exit velocity and his current 46 barrels are on pace to beat his career-high of 49 set in 2019.

“He’s started to get some loft under the ball, he doesn’t wanna hit groundballs or line drives,” Lovullo said. “He wants to drive the baseball out of the ballpark and it’s given him the chance to hit 29 home runs.

“But his expected SLG and expected OPS is far higher than what it actually is. So I know he’s making loud contact and I’ll take that any day of the week.”

Since the turn of August, Walker is tied for the most home runs (six) and RBIs (17) in all of MLB, while also ranking fourth in SLG (.714) and fifth in OPS (1.122).

His .349 average is also fourth-best for those with a minimum of 60 at-bats.

“As of late the past two or three weeks, I think he’s had an all-field approach, which enabled him to see some pitches, drive up his on-base percentage and get that OPS up over .800,” Lovullo said.

“So it’s a very, very productive year and I think there’s a lot more in there for him. He’s still learning about his swing and he’ll continue to want to learn about it. So he’s in a good spot but I know that there’s more in there.”

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