Who is the Pirates' premier power hitter? The easy answer is Pedro Alvarez, but Neil Walker has blasted his way into the conversation.
Walker has launched six home runs already, tying Alvarez for the team lead and Minnesota's Brian Dozier for most among major league second basemen.
He's not hitting wall-scrapers, either: Walker is tied with Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Mark Trumbo for the National League lead in “no doubt” home runs, which ESPN Hit Tracker defines as homers that clear the fence by at least 20 vertical feet and land at least 50 feet past the fence.
Walker is showing unprecedented pop thanks to a more enlightened approach. He's swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing) and taking a cut at more offerings thrown over the plate (Z-Swing). By swinging at strikes and laying off junk pitches, Walker has gotten ahead in the count in 39 percent of his plate appearances, well above the 34 percent MLB average.
Finding his pitch
Year O-Swing Z-Swing
2014 27.4 71.4
Career Avg. 31.1 65.8
MLB Avg. 28.8 64.5
If Walker keeps getting the upper hand on pitchers and then punishes them with deep drives, he could make power-hitting history. ZiPS, a projection system on Fangraphs, expects Walker to finish the season with 22 home runs. That would set a single-season record by a Pirates second baseman.
Bill Mazeroski (19 home runs in 1958) is the leader, followed by George Grantham (18 in 1930) and Walker's 16-homer campaign last season.
David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.
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