Two second basemen hit 23 home runs this year. One was Minnesota’s Brian Dozier and the other was Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker. Walker does not have the speed Dozier possesses, but his power did make him a top-10 fantasy second baseman this year.
To top it off, Walker had the least amount of at bats compared to the rest of the top-10, due to an injury he suffered midseason. In looking back at guys who were “fantasy MVP’s,” in that they provided far more value than expected, Walker may end up in consideration at the end of this season. The team who won my 20-team experts dynasty league owned Walker, and in another league I was able to pick up Walker on waivers early in the season. In doing so it allowed me to trade Matt Carpenter for Garrett Richards (only when he started to blow up). The fact that Walker kept raking for the rest of the season only enhanced my opinion of a trade that moved me from outside of the money to a top-three finish.
Going forward, it looks like much of Walker’s season was sustainable. His home run per fly ball rate jumped up a tad to 13.9% against his career mark of 10.1% and the league average rate of 9.5%, but overall his numbers look pretty similar to what he posted last year just with a bit more luck with balls in play.
He will be 30-years-old next year but he has seen his wRC+ rise every year since 2011 and has a career mark 15% above league average. He is a stereotypical boring fantasy player that puts up good enough numbers for you to focus elsewhere. Of course we would like our middle infielders to provide some speed, but if you are fortunate to be a player who is able to find speed in a corner infield spot then Walker was a solid value for you this year and should continue to be so at least into next season.
I think Steamer’s projection of Walker is very fair. In 150 games played and almost 650 plate appearances, Walker is projected to hit 19 home runs with 77 runs and 77 RBI and a .344 on base percentage. Again, boring but productive numbers for a middle infielder.
As an owner of Walker and Posey on the same squad, one thing I noticed for much of the season until Posey broke out down the stretch was how similar both of their numbers were. Both play premier positions and hit low-20’s home runs with only a 13 RBI difference. Posey pulled away with his on base percentage at the end of the year, but even the .364 mark Posey posted compared to Walker’s .342 is not drastically different. Walker was a poor man’s version of Posey this year at a prime spot.
In longer term leagues the shelf life for Walker is short, but I think he makes for an interesting keeper depending on league settings. The fact that you essentially know what you are going to get out of Walker has value as does the position he plays. This also would give you an idea of how you are going to draft, since you know you are getting power but no speed from second base. Keeping Walker would essentially build your draft strategy for you, as his attributes are rare at his position. I do not expect Walker to lead second basemen in home runs in 2015, but I do expect him to be right near the top of the totem pole. He may not be a sexy up and comer, but Walker is a guy worth owning in longer term leagues.
Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.