Christian Walker’s long ball has worked this season. The Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman’s defense, by defensive runs saved, is among the best not only at his position but all of them, according to the The Fielding Bible and Sports Information Solutions.
His 15 defensive runs saved at first base is nine more than the next-best first baseman, by the numbers on Sports Info Solutions (SIS).
But from an offensive perspective, it’s been a down year. SIS writer Mark Simon dove into the why of Walker’s 25 home runs and .201 average so far. Part of it is just about how good opponents have played defense against him.
They’ve been aided by aggressive shifting, but bad luck also appears to be in play.
Opponents have 14 defensive runs saved with Walker at the plate. He has 19 fewer runs than expected, and he’s expected to have a .254 average based on the numbers available to SIS.
One element of Walker’s numbers not being where they could be is in how teams are defensing him. Walker, a right-handed hitter, has had more at-bats come against defensive shifts than ever before.
And those shifts have crushed his batting average – he’s 3-for-40 when hitting a ground ball or a short line drive against a fully shifted defense (three infielders on the pull side). As such, his ground ball numbers are nowhere near his career norms.
SIS further tags 11 plays expected to be a base hit that were categorized by the analytics service as “good fielding plays” by opponents.
Another curious thing: Walker’s homer numbers might be higher — it’s expected he’d be at 31 right now — if he and his teammates had more success at home, Simon adds.
Chase Field has seen 93 homers hit in Phoenix this season, but Diamondbacks away games have produced 137, making for the worst ratio in the majors, per SIS.
Anyway, a lot of bad luck appears to be dinging Walker, who is having a pretty darn good season all things considered.
He can at least say he’s making up for it with a stellar defensive season.
What separates Walker from his positional peers is his range, which accounts for all 15 of his Runs Saved, specifically the skill he has at handling a ball hit to his right.
He has converted 67 of 123 plays on balls hit in that direction in which he had a >0% chance of recording the out. He is the only first baseman at 50% or higher in that stat and is more than 10 percentage points better than anyone else with at least 50 such opportunities.