By Ken Rosenthal, Matt Yellow and Will Sammon
The Philadelphia Phillies and free-agent pitcher Taijuan Walker have agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal, major league sources say the athlete. Here’s what you need to know:
- Walker ranks 12th overall the athleteis Keith Law’s list of the top 50 free agents.
- The 30-year-old right-hander won 12-5 last season with a 3.49 ERA and 157.1 IP.
- He received his first career All-Star nod in 2021, in his first season with the Mets.
- In addition to Walker, the Phillies are inking a deal with free-agent left-hander Matt Strahm, major league sources say the athlete.
In 2022, Walker showed why he should aim for a multi-year deal, even if he’s more of a mid-range free-agent option.
Walker redesigned himself as a strike thrower with an out pitch in his splitter, a pitch he rarely used prior to Tommy John’s surgery. Hitters have an extremely difficult time lifting the ball against him; The average starting angle on the field when hitters make contact is -1 degrees. Of the balls hit by Walker’s splitter in the playoff, 55 percent were at 0 degrees or less, i.e. parallel to or with the ground, and only six percent were hit in the 26 to 30 degree launch angle range, where balls at 95 mph or harder-hit barrels by Statcast, meaning they’re likely extra base hits.
Law: The Phillies address another big question by adding Taijuan Walker
Why the Phillies made this move
After the Phillies agreed to a $300 million deal for Trea Turner, their next goal was a reliable mid-rotation pitcher. They were reluctant to sign a pitcher tied to a qualifying offer because they would give up draft picks to sign Turner. So they paid a premium for one of the best starters that didn’t cost them a pick. An annual salary of $18 million for a mid-rotation pitcher is steep, but unless it’s already clear, the Phillies aren’t going to win awards for efficiency. They don’t care.
They had to replace a significant amount of rotational innings lost to the departures of Kyle Gibson, Zach Eflin and Noah Syndergaard. Walker, 30, had two consecutive healthy seasons with the Mets. He used his splitter more than ever in 2022, and that’s a plus point the Phillies might want him to throw more in 2023. Opponents hit .195 with a .267 batting percentage against the splitter.
The Phillies followed a simple philosophy with their pitchers this past season: Throw your best pitches more. So it’s reasonable to think that with some tweaks, the Phillies will see even more potential in Walker. Even if he were the pitcher he was in 2022 — a 111 ERA+ — he would deliver a stable power mid-rotation. – Yellow
What Philadelphia is getting with Walker
Having settled for short-term deals during his previous free agency shoots, Walker sought a longer-term deal. With the Mets, he was a consistent groundball pitcher and a dependable part of their rotation. In two years with the Mets, Walker had an All-Star appearance in 2021, had better numbers in 2022, and had a combined 3.98 ERA/4.11 FIP with a 1.18 WHIP in 316 1/3 innings in 59 games, including 58 launches. Using a split finger rather than relying on his four-seam fastball, Walker produced arguably his best season with a 3.49 ERA, 3.65 FIP and 2.5 fWAR in 157 1/3 innings. At Walker, the ground is stable; You pretty much know what you’re getting, and it’s a more than viable option for the Phillies’ rotation. – Samon
Phillies solidify rotation with Taijuan Walker and put their stamp on winter meetings
(Photo: Brad Penner / USA Today)