A fully-healthy Neil Walker is starting to hit better in August. (Photo by: David Hague)
While the Pirates’ overall offense is slowly accelerating this month (11th in the NL in runs, 6th in OPS), Neil Walker has shifted gears entirely. Pittsburgh’s second baseman has been one of the league’s most productive players in August, hitting .362 with an .893 OPS. Only Arizona’s hot-hitting Aaron Hill (.391 BA, 1.146 OPS) is performing better than Walker this month among NL second basemen.
Walker has built a nine-game hitting streak, and even in that short period of time he has raised his season batting average to .262 from .244 and season OPS to .762 from .738. Part of his sudden statistical rise is that Walker missed about 25 games after suffering separate hand and rib injuries.
“The two DL stints, it took a while for me to start feel back to my normal self, not from a physical standpoint, just from a game-speed, go-with-the flow of baseball,” Walker said last week. “Now I’m in a pretty good place.”
The improved play of Walker and Andrew McCutchen (.474/.565/.711 in August with 2 HR) this month has helped the Pirates’ offense overcome the fact that general manager Neal Huntington did not acquire any new position players at the trade deadline. Walker now finds himself hitting either 2nd or 5th in Pittsburgh’s lineup against right-handed pitchers, using his hot streak to produce runs.
“I think I’m just seeing the ball well. I’ve been seeing the ball well all year,” Walker said. “I’ve been finding ways to get on base, finding ways to walk, hit-by-pitch, things like that. It’s just step in the box and trying to find a barrel. I knew that I would catch my stride.”
How to Make it Right?
One area where Walker has not yet caught his stride, though, is in the opposite batter’s box. The switch-hitter continues to perform poorly from the right side, hitting .212 this season with zero extra-base hits in 77 plate appearances.
The platoon split (Red vs. RHP, Blue vs. LHP) for Neil Walker has only increased. (Source: FanGraphs)
Walker has been one of the worst-hitting second baseman in baseball against left-handed pitchers. Since the start of 2011, he has posted a mere .250 batting average and .611 OPS against lefties, showing none of the power that makes him a threat against righties.
“I’ve been working,” Walker said. “I haven’t had a ton of at-bats right-handed, but I’m starting to feel better. We’re working on a few things.”
LHP Wandy Rodriguez (left forearm tightness) is scheduled to include his curveball when he throws batting practice Friday in Pittsburgh. The Pirates’ starter threw 35 pitches in the bullpen Tuesday, all fastballs and changeups.
We are no closer to knowing what RHP Gerrit Cole‘s role will be in September and October, but Gerrit Cole said he is open to pitching out of the bullpen.
After Wednesday night’s win, the Pirates have a 48.4-percent chance to win the National League Central, combining odds from Baseball Prospectus and Clay Davenport. Pittsburgh leads the Cardinals (24.2%) by 3.0 games and the Reds (27.4%) by 3.5 games in the division.
Programming Note: I will be covering the Pirates in-person for 10 straight days starting Friday. You can find my coverage of the Bucs’ California swing right here on Pirates Prospects, but gluttons for punishment can also follow my travels to San Diego and San Francisco on Twitter and Instagram.