Neil Walker
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 to produce runs.

The hot streak is not just good luck on batted balls, either. In the second half, Walker has only struck out in 10 percent of plate appearances compared to his 18-percent strikeout rate in the first half.

“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.

Neil Walker
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.”

Bonus Notes!

  • 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.
  • 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.
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10 COMMENTS

  1. Hey I should be going to the Wednesday day game in San Diego, any other left coast fan going to the game?

  2. I have said all along that Walker is a .290 hitter when he is healthy. I am not sure about him hitting right-handed though. Should the Pirates try to give him more chances against LH pitchers, to see if he can come out of it? Or should they sit him and move Jordie to 2B against lefties? I say let him play against lefties for the rest of the regular season, but if he hasn’t shown anything, I think you need to sit him against lefties in the playoffs.

  3. Before I found out who wrote the article I looked at the title and thought “oh that title is all James.”

    But seriously as long as long as one or two guys are hot I think they’ll be ok offensively with the pitching. I was waiting for Walker to come around. He’s not great but I think he can be above average which I’ll take.

      • James I bet that word play is dynamite at the bars (if that’s your thing). Would Walker ever give up hitting RH vs. LHP or would he just be that much more lost batting from the left side against a lefty?

        • It’s something I have been meaning to ask him. Since he has rarely faced any LHPs as a left-handed hitter, I can’t imagine he would be any better handling southpaws that way. He can keep plugging away at trying to improve from the right side.

          And I am a testament to the fact that witty repartee does not really play well at the club.

  4. Tomorrow is what we have been waiting to see from Wandy. If he has no pain with the curveball then I think we should see the usual 3 week rehab start with him being back some time around the long home stand in September.

    Hopefully it’s perfect timing to send Cole to the bullpen.

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