When the Yankees signed Neil Walker to a one-year, $4 million deal just weeks before Opening Day, many considered the acquisition a case of grand theft. The veteran infielder brought defensive versatility and a switch-hitting bat to a righty-heavy lineup. This became even more urgent once Greg Bird went down with another lengthy injury.
Walker had the potential to be another Brian Cashman steal, a solid glove with potential to feast on Yankee Stadium’s short porch. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Walker has yet to deliver, especially from the left side of the plate.
The 32-year-old has been bad, plain and simple. Any power in Walker’s swing has not followed him from Milwaukee, as he owns just two extra base hits so far this season (a pair of doubles). Nobody expected Walker to replace Bird in terms of left-handed power, but they certainly expected more than what the team is currently getting out of him. Walker has been bad from both sides of the plate, but is especially struggling as a lefty.
Stacked with right-handed power, The Yankees planned on having Walker bring balance to the lineup. The problem is, Walker has been especially terrible against right-handed pitching. He’s slugging just .180 from the left side, compared to .286 from the right. He has only had 14 at-bats as a righty, but it’s still a startling split. For his career, Walker has slugged .453 as a lefty compared to .365 as a righty. Normally, his left-handed swing is his superior one. That has not been the case so far in 2018.
This isn’t just bad baseball luck either. Walker is struggling to simply put the ball in play from the left side. His current strikeout rate as a lefty stands at 23.6-percent. Meanwhile, it’ 7.1-percent as a righty. For his career, his lefty strikeout rate is 18.1-percent. So unless he is reaching base via passed ball on one of his strikeouts — like he did on Tuesday night — his offensive contribution has been absent.
So, how can Walker improve? Part of his struggles could be an abbreviated spring training slate, and he is still shaking off some rust in the early going. Walker was signed in mid-March, so he missed a full three weeks of spring training games. A similar struggle could be seen with Alex Cobb in Baltimore. If that’s the case, then Walker just needs time. If it’s something more, the Yankees currently have the pieces to significantly diminish Walker’s playing time.
With Tyler Austin and Miguel Andujar swinging hot bats, along with the arrival of Gleyber Torres, Walker has become somewhat expendable in the Yankees’ everyday plans moving forward. If he continues to struggle against right-handed pitching, his role will continue to decrease.