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.
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.