We Need to Talk About Taijuan Walker's Hitting
This is Taijuan Walker:
Like most pitchers, he's a terrible hitter. Over the course of his career, he has a .161/.183/.205 slashline, good for a 0 (ZERO!) wRC+ in 119 plate appearances. Even for a pitcher, this is pretty rough.
2021 was even rougher for him at the plate. Going into his August 3 start, Walker was hitting .031/.061/.031 and was striking out 64.7% of the time, good for a -72 wRC+.
But there was a good reason for this: he wasn't really swinging.
At some point in 2021, Walker started having side pains. While he was able to pitch, he didn't want to injure himself further. That led to silly looking at-bats, like this one (against noted ace Matt Harvey):
However, on August 3, Walker decided he was done looking like a fool. Because, for just the second time in his career, he stepped into the batter's box left-handed.
And it went.... poorly:
Nick Neidert made quick work of the lefty Walker, striking him out on just 3 pitches. Walker returned to the right-hander's batter's box for his next AB, where he failed to move over the runner and also struck out on three straight pitches (two failed bunt attempts).
Walker hits left-handed the next game, and the next game after that. The result? 0-3 with 3Ks.
You're probably wondering why we're even talking about a poor-hitting pitcher experimenting with switch-hitting. Had Walker quit hitting left-handed at this point, this is definitely not something worth writing about.
But on August 19, Walker does the unthinkable: he makes contact... TWICE
Sure, these are weakly hit and both are outs, but this turned out to be a wonderful foreshadow for what was to come the next week.
In the 3rd inning of an August 26 game against the Giants, Walker ropes this 82 MPH slider into center:
This was no cheap hit, either. At 98.2 MPH off the bat, this liner had a .586 XBA. That's a pro single if I've ever seen one.
But Walker wasn't content with just one single, because, in the bottom of the 5th, he does this:
Are you kidding? Admittedly, this wasn't quite as cool as the first one (89.7 EV and a .560 XBA), but still, a pitcher who had never hit well, who'd never hit left-handed in his career before this season, gets two solid hits against a solid Major Leaguer? It's not like Johnny Cueto is a slouch of a pitcher either.
And it doesn't stop here either. Walker continued hitting left-handed until the end of the season. The results? A .286/.286/.286 slashline (and a 40.0 K%), good for a 60 wRC+, all better than his career marks.
He even had an RBI against the Yankees:
Maybe the solution for not hitting well in the majors is simply to switch sides (we wouldn't advise it).