So far this July, Neil Walker is hitting .362 with a .935 OPS. That is compared to his June, where he slumped with a .247 batting average and .701 OPS. Last week, Tim Williams wrote that the Pirates are getting the best version of Neil Walker at the perfect time, and I felt that this has been a continuous story for years for Walker as the calendar flipped to July. Let’s take a look at the trends of exactly how well he really does turn things on in July.
The July hot streak is not a new thing for Walker, as he hit similarly last year in June and July, batting .255/.362/.682 and .316/.558/.941 respectively in 2014. Statistics from every June and July in his career suggest Walker heats up regularly as the calendar turns to July. It is actually quite amazing to see the consistency in Walker hitting that much better in the month.
“I don’t know if it’s this time of year in particular,” said Walker. “For whatever reason, it takes me a little while to settle into my approach and settle into my swing to connect and get my swing off consistently. That’s something I was really fighting in the early going. For me, when I’m getting my swing off consistently and getting my foot down, I swing the bat like I’ve been swinging it recently.”
He isn’t kidding that it takes him some time to settle into his approach. See his career June and July splits below.
Since Neil Walker has entered the league, he has been at the very top of the tier of hitters in the month of July. It’s been very obvious how much Walker turns in on when the calendar turns, but exactly how good has Walker been compared to the rest of the league?
I took statistics from the month of July from the last six seasons (2010 – 2015) and filtered the players who have had at least 400 plate appearances over that time. I chose to use a minimum of 400 plate appearances to try to attest for the players that have been most durable over the month of July as well. The number was initially a minimum of 483 (~26 in the month with the All Star Game, 3.1 PA/G, 6 seasons), then I lowered it to 400 to allow some breathing room (and to allow Mike Trout to qualify in the results). Here is what I found.
As you can see, the only players that have a better batting average than Walker over the past six years in July are Melky Cabrera and Joe Mauer. From an OPS standpoint, Walker would be fifth using these metrics. Therefore, Walker isn’t only the best hitting over the last half decade in July for the Pirates, he is one of the best in the league.
The Pirates are a team in need of their second baseman continuing his hot summer hitting through the rest of the year, especially in the next six weeks or so while Josh Harrison is out with a torn UCL in his thumb. His three home runs in July are a welcome sign, especially when he only had four going into the month.
Another thing about Neil Walker that is a welcoming sign so far this year is the fact that he has been able to stay healthy. Throughout his career, Walker has been plagued with injury after injury, from concussions to back problems to an appendectomy. Health, of course, is an extremely important aspect of Walker’s game. This season, Walker has been seeing a MAT (Muscle Activation Techniques) Specialist, who has tweaked his post game recovery process and routine to help him stay healthy. Walker said that he has employed some different methods of recovery like using the ice tub more regularly.
“The most important thing for me – staying on the field,” Walker said.
I’d say that’s the most important thing for the Pirates, as well.