The Seattle Mariners entered today’s game thinking sweep thoughts, and with the Toronto Blue Jays sending struggling young righty Aaron Sanchez to the hill it even seemed reasonable. Reasonable, that is, until Taijuan Walker happened. His fifth inning, more specifically. Then all was lost, and quickly.
After making it through four surprisingly easy innings, Walker came undone in the fifth. He allowed home runs to Ryan Goins and Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion does this often, but Goins is a notoriously terrible hitter – the kind of terrible that will never warrant a starting job, no matter how nice the keystone defense is. After giving up four earned runs in 5.2 innings, Walker’s ERA actually went down – from 7.47 to 7.33.
We’ve all sat through this nightmare together, and now it’s time to stop kidding ourselves. Walker’s outings haven’t been chock full of positive signs – they’ve been full of walks, walks, more walks, and long balls. The Mariners want to win the World Series this year, right? Taijuan Walker, right now, isn’t helping them towards that goal. In fact, he’s actively hindering them. It’s time to make a change. It’s time to send Walker to AAA and insert Mike Montgomery into the starting rotation.
Before we get started on Montgomery, let me just note that this is hardly about him. He’s just the next guy in line, and it’s not like he’s forcing his way to Seattle or anything. This would-be move is all about getting Walker the hell out of Seattle and letting him sort himself out in a lower-stakes environment. The team has given him loads of chances up here – today’s was his ninth start of the year. It’s not working, so they should stop setting themselves back.
People will tell you that Walker’s been unlucky, and there’s some truth to that – he’s running a .356 BABIP, which is absolutely not going to continue much longer, if only because it basically can’t. But there’s more to BABIP than luck, and surely you’ve noticed that Walker’s getting hit hard basically every time he goes out there. When the ball is hit hard, it’s harder to stop. That’s a big part of why his BABIP is so high.
Walker’s got an awful ERA, but his FIP is nearly two runs better at 5.48. The catch, of course, is that that’s a really, really bad FIP – only eight pitchers with 30 or more innings have been worse this year. He’s been uselessly awful, and then unlucky on top of that. Positive regression would help, sure, but it wouldn’t make him worthy of a rotation spot. Maybe on the Rockies, but not on the Mariners.
The thing Walker’s doing right is striking out batters. The thing he’s doing wrong, or, rather, most wrong, is walking batters. His 8.16 K/9 mark is great, but his 4.81 BB/9 is why he shouldn’t be here anymore. It’s just too hard to survive as a starter when you’re giving out nearly five free passes per game. Also of note is that walks suck so much to watch, no matter who’s issuing them. A pitcher who can’t find the zone is one of the most frustrating, unpleasant things in baseball.
Walker was an elite prospect, and he’s still got loads of hope. Do not write off Taijuan Walker. Do. Not. Write. Him. Off. He’s 22. He was drafted five years ago out of high school, and excelled in the majors up until this year. But these aren’t the kind of struggles you work through in the majors on a should-be contending team. This is a classic case of “send him back to AAA to get stable and then see where you’re at.” Keeping him in the majors right now is just so blatantly the wrong thing to do. Harmful for his long-term development, even. There’s no upside.
Speaking of upside, what if the Mariners had a maybe-capable starter waiting in AAA? Okay, so Mike Montgomery hasn’t been a for real prospect in a long time – not since Walker was drafted, really! – but he’s off to a fine start in Tacoma. Working exclusively as a starter, Montgomery’s got a 3.83 ERA and a validating 3.51 FIP. 7.66 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, not a lot of long balls… he’s been good, is the point. Not great, but good.
Most importantly, he’s on the 40-man roster. The Mariners may see him as nothing more than organizational depth, which they’re probably right to do, but this is exactly what organizational depth is for. You have a guy in Walker that you really, really want to succeed? Do him and yourselves a favor and send him to AAA, where he can figure out what the hell is going wrong. Do Montgomery a favor and send him to the majors. There’s no roster maneuvering needed. It’s as easy and clean a switch as possible.
Montgomery deserves a shot, given that the fifth rotation spot in Seattle has been a black hole so far. He’s pitched well enough, and it’s not like the team can’t just send him back down after one game if he’s just horrifically bad or something. There’s no downside. It’d be better than sending Walker out there to get shelled start after start after start.
Taijuan Walker was good in spring training, which was practice. It was also two months ago, and since then he’s been one of the worst Mariners. He’s got a lot of promise, as does this entire team. But he needs AAA time, and Mike Montgomery is ready to show Seattle what he can or can not do. Make the switch, Mariners. Walker to Tacoma, Montgomery to Seattle. If only for our eyes’ sake.
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