Having lost Nate Pearson, Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton to injury, the Blue Jays were desperately in need of some pitching. So they went out and got Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners. Walker will bring some stability to the back-end of the rotation.
Walker isn’t a game-changing arm. This isn’t David Price circa 2015, but he’s a solid pitcher who can help this team push towards the playoffs. Fangraphs currently has the Blue Jays playoff odds at 65.7%.
In 27.0 innings Walker has a 4.00 ERA, a 4.94 FIP and a 4.77 xFIP. He’s struck out close to a batter an inning keeps the walks mostly in check.
He attacks hitters with a five-pitch mix, four-seamer, cutter, spilt-finger, sinker and a curve. Per Baseball Savant he throws each pitch at least 10% of the time. He doesn’t throw overly hard, averaging 93 on the fastball. He fits into the exact mould of a Blue Jays starting pitcher: mid-range velocity and a large pitch mix.
Walker’s best pitch looks to be his cutter. He throws it 22% of the time and it averages 85.6 mph. It acts more like a slider than a true cutter (Fangraphs actually labels it as such), but regardless this pitch has been very effective for Walker.
As you can see he gets a ton of movement on this pitch. The pitch breaks 5.1 inches which is 1.7 inches more than comparable cutters. That ranks 16 among cutters. It’s his go-to strikeout pitch and one he typically throws when he’s looking for the strikeout. The pitch has a 24.4 whiff% per Baseball Savant, the highest of his pitches, and it’s been responsible for 12 of Walker’s 25 strikeouts.
Walker when he first came up to the big leagues with the Mariners he threw his cutter 6-7% of the time. He relied heavily on his fastball which he threw close to 60% of the time. In 2017 when he joined the Arizona Diamondbacks his cutter usage jumped to 15% and his fastball usage fell to 54%, and he had a breakout season.
Injuries derailed his next two seasons, and have taken a lot off of his fastball. Walker used to be a pitcher who averaged 95 mph and could dial it up to 100 mph. Now throwing 93 he can’t just pump fastballs in there and be successful. He’s dropped the fastball usage down to 34.5% and, in turn, is throwing more cutters and split-fingers. As the cliché goes, he’s become more of a pitcher than a thrower.
Much like a slider, Walker tends to throw the cutter down and away to right-handed batters.
When he locates in that spot he has success. He gets in trouble when he misses that spot and leaves the pitch inside to right-handed hitters.
And it can get hit a long way.
The good news is that Walker hasn’t missed very much this season. That home run by Yuli Gurriel was the only cutter out of 95 thrown to be hit for a home run this season.
Taijuan Walker is the exact type of pitcher the Blue Jays want. Someone with a large array of pitches, with one standout pitch. Walker’s cutter has been really good this season, he gets good movement on it and gets strikeouts. We will see if the Blue Jays try and alter his pitch mix a bit to maximize him even more or if they just leave him be and let him keep doing what he’s been doing.