The first thing I must do is shout out former Viva El Birdos writer Ben Clemens. I am clearly biased, but now over at Fangraphs he has consistently written some of my favorite things about baseball. On Wednesday he wrote This Article Is Not About a Hitting Streak about Jordan Walker and it is really good, as always.
But the next thing I must do is blame him, because the game after this article came out the hit streak was broken:
I think it’s amazing that Walker is now in second place for the longest hitting streak to start a career for players under 21 years old, and that he passed Ted Williams for that honor. That’s awesome, and I’m sure that he’ll treasure that memory for years to come. Eleven games! It’s truly amazing. I just don’t think it’s useful for my purposes, which is to wonder how good Jordan Walker is.
I am kidding, of course. These words questioning the importance of a hit streak did not offend any sort of petty baseball deity thus dooming the streak to end. Definitely not. But in the article Ben does bring up something I had been wanting to look at for a while. You see, there are hit streaks and then there are Hit Streaks, you know what I mean? Which one has Walker been on? Let’s look at some charts!
During the streak has had 50 plate appearances with 15 hits, 2 doubles, 2 homers, a 2% walk rate, a 22% K-rate, all for a slash line of .319/.360/.489 and a 132 wRC+. Here are how those hits shake out, per Baseball Savant:
Along with the launch angle:
This classic “pull hits in the air” results is also reflected Walker’s current approach at the plate. As Ben mentioned in his article, it looks like he is looking for inside pitches to thwack. Here are the pitches he has swung at, per Baseball Savant:
Along with batted ball type:
This all lines up with the pitches he not swinging at:
So what can we glean from these? To be honest, this is more for fun than anything else. In 50 plate appearances even the smallest blip makes a big impact on the data. Pitchers will like adjust and hopefully Walker can adjust and the dance will go on for years and years. But there are few things that caught my eye that I liked.
- It is really hard to get Walker to miss on a fastball. He has a 14% Wiff rate on fastballs so far this season. It is also tough to get him out on them. Per Baseball Savant the put away percentage for 4-seamers against Walker is 6.3% and that percentage for sinkers is 0%.
- He is getting thrown a lot of sliders and so far with interesting results. He has seen 58 sliders this season and taken 14 for balls while swinging and missing at 15. Though he has a high Wiff rate of 41.7% against them, he also has 8 hits with 1 home run off the pitch. It is actually the pitch he has the highest Hard Hit percentage against at 64.3%.
There are some mild concerns, though, and I think Ben did a good job bringing those up. The groundball rate is high, the walk rate is low, average exit velocity is middling, and the chase rate is pretty high too. But it is early, Jordan Walker is 20 years old and only 50 plate appearances into his career. There are a lot of good things in his profile, too. He has been really good against fastballs and at hitting mistakes. That is a majority of what a successful MLB hitter has to do. The really good ones just do a little bit more with the mistakes than others — and there is a lot of time for him to do that yet.
In his first 50 Major League plate appearances, Jordan Walker has had an approach and seems to have stuck to that approach. The chess game has begun — pitchers might start taking advantage of the “sacrifice contact for power” approach he has used to start the season. Maybe eventually some of those Wiffs on outside pitches will turn into hits to the opposite field. Maybe he will double down and start launching inside pitches into the stands. My guess is as he gets more comfortable seeing major league pitches his recognition will get better and the walks and power will both improve. I’m excited to find out!