Former Mets starter and new Phillies signing Taijuan Walker

The Phillies and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski struck again last night, adding a pair of pitchers as a part of their Winter Meetings spending spree. The team added starter Taijuan Walker and reliever Matt Strahm late Tuesday night on a pair of multi-year deals. 

 

These deals came one day after the team locked up star shortstop Trea Turner to an 11-year, $300M contract.

Taijuan Walker

Walker is a 30-year-old right-handed starter who pitched to a 12-5 record and 3.49 ERA with the Mets last season. Walker sits around 94 MPH for his average fastball velocity and features a splitter that hitters hit .195 off of last year with an expected slugging percentage of .323. He started throwing a cutter the last two years with the Mets and increased its usage last season. Expect that to continue under the Phillies and pitching coach Caleb Cotham who have pushed cutters throughout the organization. 

Walker has an injury history, missing almost all of 2018-2019 while undergoing and recovering from Tommy John surgery, but has been rather durable since. He’s made 69 starts since the start of the 2020 season, one of just 29 pitchers to do so. Walker’s 369.2 innings rank the 28th most over the same span. Walker isn’t overpowering, but he does average a 43% groundball rate for his career. However, he’s struggled with home runs over his career averaging a 12.7% home run to fly ball ratio. Walker’s 9.7% HR/FB mark in 2022 was his lowest for a full season since 2017 and his second lowest for a full season in his career. 

Fit with Phillies

Walker will slot in as the Phillies number 4 starter behind Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suárez. Signing Walker allows the Phillies to slow roll the implementation of their big three pitching prospects. There will be less pressure on Andrew Painter, Mick Abel, and Griff McGarry to immediately step in and perform while on innings limits. That trio will be competing with Bailey Falter for the fifth spot in the rotation in the spring. In fact, the Phillies could also now opt to deploy a six-man rotation at times to give their workhorses rest after a long postseason and maximize their young arms’ limited innings.

Contract

Four years for $72M is an overpay for a pitcher of Walker’s caliber, but much of that is due to the current state of the starting pitching market. Walker also did not come with draft pick compensation attached as he was not given a qualifying offer. Mid-rotation starters are getting paid well in today’s market, so this was always going to be the cost of doing business. It’s not a potential crippling overpay, but it is still $2-4M more than what was expected. 

However, Walker will be compared to Jameson Taillon and his 4-year, $67M deal signed with the Cubs. The Phillies reportedly had interest in Taillon before signing Walker. Both pitchers are very similar and are both 30-year-old right handers. Both also have injury histories. 

Player

ERA ’21-’22

Starts ’21-22

Innings ’21-22

xFIP ’21-22

ERA+ ’21-22

WHIP ’21-22

Taijuan Walker

3.98

58

316.1

4.18

99

1.18

Jameson Taillon

4.08

61

321.2

4.19

100

1.16

The tradeoff for the Phillies was losing Zach Eflin to the Rays when Eflin signed a 3-year, $40M deal. Philadelphia is betting that Walker’s health will hold up over the next few years over Eflin and his patella tendonitis. 

Reaction

Walker is a good number 4 who comes with less red flags than the other options, but he isn’t a sure thing either. He’s imploded in each of the last two seasons in the second half, posting a 7.13 ERA in 13 second half starts in ’21 and a 4.80 ERA in 13 starts last season. He did improve post All-Star game last season, but that’s still a bit of a question mark for a team with postseason aspirations. However, it’s dramatically better than the 6.01 ERA the Phillies got from Kyle Gibson in the second half last year. 

Ultimately, if Walker eats innings and stabilizes the back half of the rotation, he will be a welcome addition for a team whose starting depth was a challenge in October. There are some concerns with his underlying numbers hinting at some luck the last two years, but the Phillies will be thrilled with anything around a 4 ERA. 

Matt Strahm

Strahm is a 31-year-old left-handed reliever who pitched to a 3.83 ERA in 50 games out of the Red Sox bullpen last year. The lefty saw an uptick in his average velocity to 94.3 MPH in 2022, up from 93.1 in 2021. That new velo allowed his fastball to have an expected batting overage of just .138 last season and a 29.3% swing and miss rate. Strahm will also mix in a slider and a curveball, the latter of which held opponents to a .182 xBA. 

Contract

The Phillies opted not to hand out more than one year to relievers last year and it limited their options. Their results were a mixed bag. Corey Knebel had a rough start but rebounded before being lost to injury. Jeurys Familia was an unmitigated disaster. Brad Hand had a strong ERA, but it was mostly smoke and mirrors. Hand allowed many inherited runners to score and was rarely used down the stretch. 

This time, the Phillies opted to go multiple years with Strahm. $7.5M a year for Strahm is a tad high, but again it seems to be the cost of doing business in the pitching market. 

Fit with the Phillies

Philadelphia needed another capable left hander to take some of the load off of Jose Alvarado. Strahm will fill that role and could be deployed anywhere from the 7th-9th inning. He’s not necessarily a guarantee for high leverage situations, but he’ll provide depth and lighten the load for Alvarado if he’s effective. 

Reaction

The Phillies needed to add bullpen depth, preferably left-handed bullpen depth. Stram accomplishes both of those tasks. He’s not a closer nor is he a shutdown guy, but he should be an upgrade on Hand and give manager Rob Thomson an option to bridge games to the 8th and 9th inning combination of Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado. 

 

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