Early on in the 2015 season, the Seattle Mariners pitching staff has been the team’s Achilles’s heel despite the high pre-season expectations. The pitching staff has posted a 4.65 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 3.88 xFIP (so they aren’t getting dingered to death) in the first 13 games, which has cost the Mariners a several wins. One of the starting pitchers that has struggled out of the gate is 22-year old Taijuan Walker.
Walker’s previous two starts have seen pitch in 7.1 innings (3.55 innings per game) and allowed the opponents to score 14-runs. The young starter has struggled to get outs as batters have hit .415/.512/.583 against him. His struggles in those to games have helped mask the hot start by the Mariners offense. So why has the 22-year-old struggled so far in the 2015 season?
Walker has struggled mightily in the early half of the season because he has been incredibly unlucky on balls put into play. Opposing hitters are maintaining a BABIP of .483 against the right hander which has kept the young right hander out on the mound for far too long. This means that his pitch count has elevated and it’s led to him having to leave games early than he should
The 22-year-old pitcher has also struggled at fooling batters on strike three through his first two starts. Walker hasn’t gotten a single batter to strikeout swinging, no I’m not kidding. In his brief stops in the majors over the last two seasons, Walker 26.2% (2014) and 16.7% (2013) of his strikeouts came without the batter swinging at the final pitch. As a result, he’s walked six batters and struck out six.
He’s also seen a slight decline in his fastball velocity (0.9 MPH) and cutter velocity (0.2 MPH).
While this all sounds doom and gloom, it’s pretty clear that the previously mentioned issues aren’t a result of the way that he is pitching. Walker has not struggled with finding the strike zone — he’s thrown strikes on 63.1% of his pitches — or getting batters to swing at pitches — batters have swung at 17.2% of his pitches. Nothing from his performances are outside of his “career” norms at the major league level.
Basically, it’s early and we need to take a deep breath.
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