After a rough 2021 season, Christian Walker was preparing to make a redemption tour this season. In Spring Training, Walker slashed .364/.417/.758 with a 1.174 OPS in 33 at-bats, including twelve hits, seven RBIs, and three home runs in twelve games. So far, in the regular season, the first baseman is in a bizarre slump.
With 97 plate appearances, Walker has a horrible stat line of .161/.247/.414 with a .661 OPS. However, he does have fourteen hits, eleven RBIs, ten walks, and six homers. In addition, Walker has shown a power increase from last season; he only got ten home runs in 115 games. His walk percentage has increased as well, currently sitting at 10.3%; his strikeout has also decreased to a 21.7%, especially when the league is at an all-time strikeout rate.
But here is the thing with Walker. He has seen so far this season 378 pitches. Of those, 200 (52.9%) have been fastballs with a batting average of .189 and an xBA of .286 on the heater. He is even worse on off-speed and breaking pitches. Walker has batted 66 of 378 with a barrel percentage of 16.7, making him rank fourteenth in the league, with an average launch angle of 19 degrees. These stats mean that Walker is hitting the ball well when he gets contact. The problem is not even with power; when Walker receives a good pitch, his average home run distance is 421, which is a no-doubter in most MLB parks. In addition, his Whiff% is also down to 22%, and his strikeout percentage to 21.6% below league average (22.7%).
So, what is the problem with Christian Walker? The defensive shift. Walker has a .212 wOBA against the shift and a .342 wOBA without the shift. The defense has figured out Walker's hitting. Also, the first baseman is average in sprint speed, with a 27.0 feet/second mark, which does not help when putting the ball on play.
Walker is trying to compensate for the defensive shift by slugging at every at-bat. He can get it out of the park easier when he gets a 97 to 100mph pitch and has a bat exit velocity of at least 111mph. These measurements mean that pitchers throwing a fastball less than 97mph can expect a flyout or a forceout, which is constantly happening for Walker. Very bizarre, and these measurements will make sense on why his slash line looks terrible.
The next step? Walker needs to adjust. Torey Lovullo needs to see his stats because Walker is mostly hitting at the clean-up spot this year. So it makes sense to put him there with high-velocity pitchers based on the information. But not against off-speed pitches or below 95mph fastballs. Walker cannot compensate for his exit velocity with power. That is why he is getting short of passing the wall. Maybe some swing adjustment and strength change can get Christian Walker the edge by being able to get hits all over the field. Especially opposite field.