The trade deadline is approaching and the Yankees injuries are mounting for the second straight year. Small sample sizes will rule the day as the Yankees must decide if they have enough internally to patch the holes that are forming around the team. Injuries to James Paxton, Tommy Kahnle and Zack Britton will have the Yankees exploring their pitching options. Taijuan Walker of the Seattle Mariners may draw their attention as he is off to a solid start to the year.
Walker came up to the majors as an elite prospect having been ranked as high as the 11th best prospect in all of baseball. After several solid seasons with Seattle he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal that involved Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Ketel Marte.
After posting a 2.5 WAR for Arizona in 2017, Walker had to undergo Tommy John surgery — ending his 2018 campaign early and limiting him to just one major league inning the following season. In the offseason he signed a one-year, $2 million contract with Seattle to return to the franchise where his major league career began.
So far this season he has posted a 4.00 ERA, 1.074 WHIP covering 27 innings pitched. His best performance of the season came against the Oakland Athletics when he hurled seven innings of one hit ball on July 31st.
Walker’s primary pitch is a four-seam fastball that he is throwing 32% of the time this year. He averages 93.5 mph with it, but has run it up over 95 mph several times this year. Walker also features two other pitches that he throws at least 20% of the time with a slider and a splitter. FanGraphs calls the pitch a slider, but MLB Statcast has the pitch labeled as a cutter. He throws it around 86 mph and opponents only have a .167 WOBA off the pitch this season.
Walker’s splitter comes in around 89 mph and is the pitch in his arsenal that generates the lowest exit velocity of any of his pitches. Opponents hit the ball just 85.8 mph so far this season. Rounding out his offspeed offerings, Walker also throws a curveball and a sinker. So far neither pitch has proved as effective this season, as opponents have hit over .333 against both options.
Walker is still a risk based on the small sample size. He ranks in the bottom half of major league pitchers for exit velocity, strikeout percentage, and xERA. The Yankees have been known to pursue pitchers with spin rates that they like, but Walker is below average on both his fastball and curveball spin rates.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is known for being aggressive on the trade market. Seattle’s first wave of young talent has started reaching the majors and they will likely be looking at 2021 and 2022 when their best prospects should start reaching the major leagues. With Walker only locked up for this year, it would fit the Dipoto profile to spin him off for another piece or two. The Yankees and Mariners have linked up on several trades over the last few years, including moves for James Paxton and Edwin Encarnacion.
The Yankees may see something in their advanced metrics that makes Walker a worthy candidate to bring in. He features a starters arsenal of five pitches, and possibly changing the usage rates of his pitches could unlock more potential. His contract will not cost much in terms of money, and he will not command a premium prospect like Clarke Schmidt or Deivi Garcia.
The Yankees can use pitching help as a rash of injuries have battered the Yankees. They already have 24 games scheduled for the last 24 days of the season, and there are three games with the Mets to be rescheduled that could push that to 33 games in the last 31 days. Taijuan Walker would provide an experienced major league pitcher who could help the organization work through what figures to be a busy and competitive end of the season.