Jays Journal contributors will be looking at Blue Jays report cards based on how each player performed in 2020. Today, we take a look at Taijuan Walker.
After missing most of the 2018 and 2019 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, Taijuan Walker returned to the mound in 2020 with hopes of getting his career back on track. The big right-hander began the season in Seattle and made five starts with the Mariners before finding his way to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline.
He would go on to make six starts with the Jays and help Toronto get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. More importantly, Walker finished the year in good health and is now poised to cash in as a free agent in the coming weeks.
Year in Review
Walker signed a one-year, $2 Million contract with the Mariners in February and entered 2020 looking to re-establish himself as a big league starter and provide some leadership to a young, rebuilding squad in Seattle. He was able to do just that with the Mariners. Walker compiled a 2-2 record with a 4.00 ERA over 27 innings of work in his second stint with Seattle before the Blue Jays came calling at the end of August.
The former 2010 first round pick, taken just two spots after Toronto selected Asher Wojciechowski and five spots after they drafted a guy named Noah Syndergaard, arrived with the Jays in Buffalo for a player to be named later (Alberto Rodriguez) on August 27th. Just two days later, Walker threw six scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles, his first of two shutouts against the O’s, and quickly earned himself a bunch of fans north of the border.
Walker would go on to make five more starts with the Blue Jays, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.37 ERA in 26.1 total innings of work. Toronto went 5-1 in Walker’s six starts, with the only loss being the infamous Derek Fisher game in New York.
Once the playoffs rolled around, Taijuan Walker found himself stuck in the Blue Jays dugout. The coaching staff, and front office, decided to go with Matt Shoemaker and Hyun-Jin Ryu to open the series with Tampa Bay, saving Walker for a potential third game. That decisive contest never came to be, however, and Blue Jays fans were less than thrilled with the decision. Walker’s play throughout the year certainly earned him a spot as one of the top two starters locked into Toronto’s playoff rotation, but the analytics department had other plans.
By the Numbers
Overall, Walker ended the 2020 season with a 4-3 record and a 2.70 ERA. He struck out 50 batters, while surrendering 19 walks and eight home runs in 53.1 innings pitched. His team’s compiled a 7-4 record when he took the mound.
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According to Baseball Savant, Walker featured five pitches in his arsenal this season. He worked primarily with the four-seam fastball and cutter, while successfully mixing in a splitter, slider, and a curveball. His velocity with the fastball was down a bit from his younger days, but Walker offset that by becoming more effective with his secondary pitches.
For his career, the 28-year-old has now made 105 big league starts over parts of eight seasons. He has an overall record of 35-34 with a 3.84 ERA and a 2.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
With the World Series coming to a close on Tuesday, Taijuan Walker is officially a free agent. As of November 2nd he will be able to sign with any team he chooses. For Blue Jays fans, the hope remains that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro will be able to bring Walker back for another run next season. They have the payroll to make it work and could certainly use a player of Walker’s caliber in the rotation.
As for Walker, he will be looking to cash in as part of a relatively thin group of starting pitchers set to hit the open market. It also remains to be seen if the Blue Jays playoff decision will hinder their chances of convincing Walker to make Toronto his long-term home.