What to do about…Jamie Walker?

UPDATE: Walker is now an Oriole pending a physical. The deal is $11.5 million over 3 years. Congrats Jamie and best of luck with the O’s.

Jamie Walker is the Tiger free agent who I’d most like to see back. The lefty reliever is coming off his best season where he posted an ERA of 2.81 over 56 appearances. He fanned 6.9/9IP which is pretty respectable for a finesse pitcher. The real strength of Walker comes in his control. For his career he only walks 2.2/9 but in 2006 he only allowed 8 walks in 48 innings (1.5BB/9).

Model of consistency

Jamie Walker was a late bloomer with only 52 games under his belt before joining the Tigers in 2002 and becoming a fixture in the pen. As a Tiger he has posted an ERA of 3.33 over the last 4 years. His ERA and his K/9 of 6.8 and BB/9 of 2.0 haven’t really wavered over that time.

Year	Ag	G	IP	ERA	H/9	K/9	BB/9	HR/9
2002	30	57	43.7	3.71	6.6	8.2	1.9	1.9
2003	31	78	65	3.32	8.4	6.2	2.4	1.2
2004	32	70	64.7	3.20	9.6	7.4	1.7	1.1
2005	33	66	48.7	3.70	9.1	5.5	2.4	0.9
2006	34	56	48	2.81	8.8	6.9	1.5	1.5


Anectdotally it seemed that Walker was often brought in to face the tough lefty in a tight situation. However, the win probability data doesn’t play that out. Walker predictably was behind the big 3 (Jones/Zumaya/Rodney) in terms of WPA at .42. What was more surprising is that his leverage index (.67 – don’t worry about the actual number I’ll try and give context) was well behind not only the big 3 (Jones was tops at 1.99 and Rodney was third at 1.55) but also behind Wil Ledezma and Jason Grilli.

In retrospect it isn’t so surprising given Rodney and Zumaya’s ability to limit left handers. Both ranked in the top 10 in batting average against for left handed batters – quite the feat for right hand pitchers.

Regardless of Rodney and Zumaya’s talents, Walker was very effective in his role and has limited lefties to a 611 OPS the last 3 years.

Comps and stuff

So what can we expect going forward for Walker? Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA doesn’t really look favorably on him – at least prior to the 2006 season. His sim score of 49 was pretty compelling and PECOTA had Walker out of baseball by 2008. Now the story very likely may change based on Walker’s 2006 season which was near the 75th percentile for their projections.

Second Half Woes

Walker is known for having a rubber arm. He can work multiple innings and/or multiple nights and get ready with just a handful of throws. But that rubber arm appears to fatigue late in the season. Through the beauty of fangraphs, you can see that Walker has a tendency to fade as evidenced by his ERA.
Jamie Walker
At his age, it seems reasonable to expect that this trend wouldn’t be improving (although Kenny Rogers may have proved this wrong).

Can you blame him?

So Walker is coming off a great season, and he’ll be turning 35 next April. It is also his first year with free agent eligiblity, and this is very likely his only chance for a big contract. The team tried to negotiate a contract extension this summer, but talks fell through as Walker understandably wants to test the waters.

He’s already received interest from the White Sox. While I’m sure Jim Thome (2 for 10 lifetime with 6 K’s) would be thrilled, Walker’s flyball tendencies could be a problem in homer-haven US Cellular.

Walker will probably be able to fetch a 3 or 4 year deal that will net him $10-15 million. As a point of comparison reliever Bobby Howry received a 3 year/12 million deal from the Cubs last year. Now Howry is 2 years younger and right handed, but the numbers were similar.

He seems like a good guy and has provided the team a consistent level of performance through good time and bad times. While I’d love to have Walker back, I don’t know that it would be a good investment for the Tigers. Walker’s age and lack of dominant stuff are somewhat of a concern, but it hasn’t limited him to date. The bigger part of the puzzle is that the Tigers chose to stick with Rodney and Zumaya against lefties instead of bringing in Walker. I’m not sure that the leverage is there to warrant a $4 million a year commitment for 50 innings of work.

detroit tigers, jamie walker, free agents


  1. Chris

    November 14, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    How about trying to land Tejada at short? Probably have to give up someone like Bondo and another piece. The line up would be stacked. Just seeing what everyone thinks.

  2. Chris Y.

    November 14, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    If those figures are correct, that’s pricey.

    I like Walker, but is he really worth that cash to a team trying to improve in other areas? Esp. with a couple of lefty-killer righties in the pen already?

    Well said Billfer.

  3. Andy in WB

    November 15, 2006 at 12:02 am

    I also like Walker but I think that if the Tigers lost him it wouldn’t be much of a loss. Ledezma is more than capable of being a competant lefty middle reliever/situational replacement. Plus, Zumaya and Rodney can pitch multiple innings if needed.

    3-4 million dollars for a guy that pitched 48 innings???? With that math Verlander, Rogers, Bonderman & Robertson are all worth 13-17 mill/year.

  4. Kurt

    November 15, 2006 at 12:45 am

    Shhhh Andy, Scott Boras will hear you and sign them up when it comes time for them to get their payoff contracts.

  5. Jeff M

    November 15, 2006 at 1:22 am

    Great analysis. I agree with your conclusion. Great guy; he deserves to get paid; we shouldn’t be the ones to pay him.

    As for the “consistency factor”, I would like to see you look at his Inherited Runners numbers. If I remember correctly, they were pretty bad in his first couple years. He seemed to have a knack for letting runners score without letting his own batters score.

  6. Jeff M

    November 15, 2006 at 1:25 am

    Nevermind, his WHIP has been very consistent, so even if my recollections are accurate, they can be attributed to either luck or poor defense.

  7. Sam

    November 15, 2006 at 1:38 am

    Great analysis. This really brings up my weakness; I’m a stathead who can’t help but feel sentimental about this team. Walker is awesome and has been so for a while, but how could the Tigs justify giving $4M for a 35 year-old 1-2 win player? There’s no way, especially after the Sheffield contract. I do believe now that the Tigs are firmly in their “window” to win, but with huge contracts for old guys (Pudge, Maggs, Rogers and Sheff combine for $44M next season), they’ve got to make it happen before rebuilding around the younger guys (Granderson, Verlander, Bonderman, Maybin, Miller). Let’s do it in ’07!

  8. Steve

    November 15, 2006 at 8:01 am

    I agree with Sam, Jamie has been a great team mate and decent player. However this will have to be one of those decisions that have to be made to either cut him loose or offer him what we can afford and have Jamie decide on playing with a good team or playing with a lot of cash. Most guys take the cash.


  9. billfer

    November 15, 2006 at 8:30 am

    Jeff – I didn’t have inherited runners handy, but the Hardball Times lists LOB% for the last 3 years. Walker was basically league average in 04-05 (71-73%). Last year he was outstanding at 91%.

    Sam – as a team that is now a contender, the Tigers are in much more of a position to pay for a guy that will net them 1-2 extra wins a year. The benefit of being a 92 win team over a 90 win team is much more than moving from 76-78 wins. That said, given the other options it still becomes hard to justify.

    And I’m write there with you. We’re fanalysts. We root and pull for our guys, and even if the right choice is to let them go it still stings a little. At the same time you can’t fault Walker. He’s 35 and this is his one chance to get the big payday.

  10. Kyle M

    November 15, 2006 at 9:53 am

    The smart move is to let jaime walk (sorry for the bad pun). Mr. I’s money can be spent better elsewhere. Bilf had it right that 06 was his best season. He will probably never be this good again, certainly not in two or three years.

    Also it should be noted that, since jaime is a type B free agent, if the Tigers offer him arbitration (which he should turn down) and he signs elsewhere, they would get a good draft pick to help restock the farm system.

  11. Chris Y.

    November 15, 2006 at 11:11 am

    $4 million per year is a big difference in the free-agent market.

  12. Kyle J

    November 15, 2006 at 11:32 am

    Apparently, the Orioles have made a contract offer to Walker.


  13. Joey C.

    November 15, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    From what I’ve read, Dumbrowski has already done the math and won’t be resigning Walker for the money he’s likely to command on the market. When you’ve got morons like the Os bidding on a guy, you know he’s gonna end up over-paid and Dumbrowski isn’t likely to match.

  14. Ken from Cincinnati

    November 15, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    That article seems to indicate to me that there is no way he’s coming back. He’s already brown-nosing other franchises and saying him and the Orioles are on the “same page”. By the end of this week, we no longer have him. I think we’ll survive.

  15. Matt in Toledo

    November 15, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    So now we should be rooting for them to sign him quickly so the Tigers get draft pick concentration, right? He’s Type B, so they’ll get a sandwich pick after the first round if I remember correctly.

    They should grab a lefty reliever off the scrap heap and use the money they save to draft and sign a player with signability issues with their new pick.

  16. Don

    November 15, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    good points matt, I think in the spring of 2009 we’d all rather have a toolsy AA or AAA guy we draft in 07 trying to make the team rather than giving a 37 year old walker the easley/higgy treatment.

  17. Sam

    November 15, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    The Orioles are Idiots. Yep, they are going to overpay for him. Good for Jamie. I wish him well.


  18. Adam

    November 15, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    I just read an article saying the O’s offered JW a 3-year deal. He won’t get that here, so I think he’ll take it. It didn’t say how much money though, but even if it’s not a lot, I think he’ll take it.

  19. Brian

    November 15, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Thats a lot of money for a LOOGY. Even if he is a very good one. I wish him well and I am glad for him and his family that he could find someone to give him that kind of money.

    I can understand the Tigers not wanting to give him that though. I guess they get a comp pick this year.

  20. Matt in Toledo

    November 15, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    Apologies to Kyle M for picking up on the same point he made about the compensation for Jamie Walker.

  21. Jojo SunDevil

    November 16, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    Ooooh!! I dunno, I think we could definitely use Walker, but it is easy to see why he is so prized. He is a young left-hander with a lot of potential who has just been getting better every year.

    I don’t like the idea of throwing out there, young right handed pitcher to face left hand hitting, and then they get roughed up, and then their confidence gets all messed up.

    Having a good left handed middle releiver is priceless. Look at Embree when he was with the Red Sox, Ron Villone with the Yankees, and I rememebr a few day ago Mike Fetters with the Diamondbacks. They’re not big names or even all-stars. BUt they are huge important, and they get that one big out when we absolutely need it, and then the crowd gets excited and the momentum changes. Walker was moving into that category.

    Pay the Man!!

  22. Jojo SunDevil

    November 16, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Wow, great graph by the way!!

    But, I still say bring him back and pay the money. Left-handed releivers are like kickers in football, you don’t realize how important they are until you have a crappy one

  23. Chris in Nashville

    November 16, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    If someone wants to sign a guy who will probably be a one inning, middle relief pitcher $4 million a year, by all means, let them. I would LOVE to have him back, but the O’s WAY overpaid, and I think Dombrowski made the right move. And there is no way we need, or will get Tejada, Guillen and Inge are fine where they are at.

  24. Joshua M.

    November 19, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    It was nice to have a lefty like Walker coming out of the bullpen, but with Zumya, Rodney , and Jones all still there his innings pitched would more than likely be headed down again this year. And 4 million a year is just to high a price for something like that. I think Ledezma proved he could do the same job as walker out of the pen. He is just young and has some growing up to do before he is as good at is as Walker has gotten to be. Congrats to Jamie though one shot at free agency and he took advantage of it. Now who are the best choices to replace him????