Unlikely All-Stars: Christian Walker is the Kingslayer
Christian Walker is mashing his way into All-Star consideration for the first time with the Arizona Diamondbacks this season.
It’s the simple things. The swish of the net, the hissing sound of skates ferociously grinding against the ice, the pass being thrown in between multiple defenders — the margin of error akin to playing the Operation board game — to keep the sticks moving, and perhaps the most satisfying of all: the thundering crack of a wooden bat launching a ball outside the stratosphere and into whatever realm the aliens from Arrival came from. Home runs are, contrary to unpopular-old-head-belief, ridiculously awesome.
But we talk enough about the potential Hall of Famers and breakout sluggers; we do not talk enough about the “Other Guys”. In this case, it’s a fellow languishing away in the desert with only fantasy baseball managers knowing of his existence. That fellow is Christian Walker, and he’s quietly been one of the most scintillating power bats in baseball.
Power, Power, MORE POWER
Christian Walker has taken the approach of simply hitting dingers about as frequently as any player in the league. It’s a strategy that, as evidenced by the video above, has led to some eye candy moments. He’s currently holding a .208/.304/.490 slash line with a 117 wRC+ to go along with his absolutely scrumptious 19 home runs, which is tied for the fifth-most in all of baseball. While the batting average and on-base numbers are less than ideal, the degree to which Walker’s power has materialized has been somewhat surprising.
For one thing, his .278 isolated power mark is the eighth-best among all qualified hitters. That’s higher than some more high-profile names like Pete Alonso, Shohei Ohtani, short-porch-king Anthony Rizzo, Rafael Devers, and Giancarlo Stanton.
Perhaps even more impressively, Christian Walker is one of the few famous Walkers to not be attached to anything heinous as of late. He doesn’t even play for a villanous team and instead aligns himself with — unless you were a Yankees fan in 2001 — one of the more innocuous clubs in the league.
He also simply hits dingers for the team with one of the more underrated City Connect uniforms. Professionally speaking, I want his statue built yesterday.
What’s In A Breakout?
But Christian Walker’s season goes deeper than just the nuclear explosions radiating from his bat. His aforementioned batting average is likely due for a major correction, as his .190 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is the lowest of any qualified hitter in baseball. He’s not a speedy baserunner — as few first basemen are — but given his relatively low 19.7 K% and solid 10.9 BB%, a more digestible slash line is likely to be delivered.
It’s true that Walker struggled mightily in 2021, but his 2019 season in which he, also quietly, smashed 29 home runs and hit .259 with a .348 on-base show that this production isn’t completely out of nowhere. This isn’t like, say, the first half of Adam Frazier’s 2021 season that didn’t show many significant changes in his plate discipline or batted ball data; Christian Walker is a lot more legit and a lot more “turnt”, so to speak.
Another key item rolling on Walker’s conveyor belt of deliciousness is the splendid job he’s been doing playing first base. His 10 defensive runs saved rate only behind Ke’Bryan Hayes (14), Jorge Mateo (12), and Kyle Tucker (12) for the best in the sport. If you’re more of an outs above average kind of nerd, his 7 OAA mark trails only behind Jonathan Schoop (16), Nico Hoerner (8), and Manny Machado (8). While it’s fair to point out that defense can be trickier to judge than other positions, it’s still a nice adage to point out with Walker’s game.
Oh! A Catch!
But the same way even a delightful candy like Starburst has the yellow flavor that can be detrimental to the whole package, Christian Walker has struggled in one particular area: situational hitting.
Walker’s ability to hit for power has been great, yes, but his ability to provide runs for the Diamondbacks has been rather porous. Fourteen of his 19 homers have come with zero runners on base. Even in his two-solo-shot game last week, Walker struck out with runners on first and third, serving as a microcosm for his season.
Furthermore, among the 65 players in baseball with at least 10 homers, Walker has the third-lowest batting average (.129) and wRC+ (36) of the entire bunch when hitting with runners in scoring position. You could make the tinfoil-hat case that with Arizona’s poor offense as a team, Walker is just completely taken off guard when there are actually runners on base.
You won’t catch this writer touting the whole “clutch isn’t real at ALL!” sort of extreme nerd propaganda — as if players are nothing but gears and lightbulbs hiding in flesh suits with cool City Connect jerseys — but this lack of success, through June, doesn’t neccesarily tell us evertything about Christian Walker’s overall skill.
Rather, the lack of being able to be a complete package when producing runs might just be the simple reason for Walker being overlooked. Exclusively hitting solo home runs for a mediocre team doesn’t exactly get your highlights tossed around like the one kid who brought a pack of gum to school.
Get Him Some Water. He’s Been In The Desert.
But while Walker’s season may not be the most iconic in the traditional sense, that shouldn’t deter too much from how valuable a commodity he could be for potential trades. There haven’t been many rumors or any real indication that the Diamondbacks would move on from Walker, but considering his incredibly cheap contract and control (becomes a free agent after 2024 season) it might behoove the organzation to at least consider it. This isn’t likely to be a contending team for some time.
A team like the Padres, a team this writer is definitely-not-at-all-even-slightly-attached-to, would kill for him. Contending teams like the Astros with Yuli Gurriel’s extremely poor season thus far might be a perfect fit, but it’s unlikely the Diamondbacks move on from Walker at the deadline, despite how fun it might be for baseball chaos enthusiasts.
Regardless, Christian Walker is deserving of praise. He’s succeeded at being relevant despite being anything but just a few months ago. Whether you’re a fan of bounceback seasons, solid defense, that feeling of picking up a major contributor that went undrafted in your fantasy league, or absolute mega-nuke-rocket-energon-chakra-blast home runs, there’s something for every kind of baseball fan to appreciate.