The Philadelphia Phillies have been busy this week at the Winter Meetings. It was reported on Monday the team agreed to terms on an 11-year, $300 million contract with shortstop Trea Turner. Now there are multiple reports indicating the club has signed starting pitcher Taijuan Walker to a 4-year, $72 million contract and left-handed reliever Matt Strahm to a 2-year, $15 million contract.
President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski previously stated the front office had their eyes on adding to the middle infield, starting rotation, and bullpen. They have done all of those, and while they could make some other minor moves, it does seem like their major spending is done for the winter.
When it comes to Walker and Strahm, the Phillies are getting two pitchers who have experienced ups and downs throughout their careers. Both are coming off solid seasons, so let’s take a look at how they profile and figure into the Phillies’ 2023 plans.
Not only was Walker once one of the top prospects in the Seattle Mariners farm system, but he was also one of the top prospects in the sport. He made his MLB debut in September of 2013 and heading into the 2014 season, Walker was MLB.com’s sixth-ranked prospect ahead of players like Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor.
While Walker hasn’t lived up to the hype he once got as a young starting pitcher, he has turned himself into a good option out of the rotation over the last two seasons with the New York Mets. He was an All-Star in 2021, throwing 159.0 innings, with 146 strikeouts and a 4.47 ERA. In 2022, Walker threw 157.1 innings, with 132 strikeouts and a 3.49 ERA.
Over the course of his career, Walker has dealt with a number of injuries but has been able to stay relatively healthy over the last two years. He just turned 30, so there should still be plenty of innings left in his tank.
Walker profiles as the perfect middle of the rotation arm the organization was looking to add. He is similar to former Phillies’ pitchers Zach Eflin and Kyle Gibson in regards to his higher contact rates, lower strikeout numbers, and not being a high-velocity pitcher (his 4-seam fastball averaged 93.7 MPH in 2022). Walker has been able to pump his fastball into the mid-90s when needed though.
Throughout his career, he has thrown a lot of different pitches and 2022 was no different. Here are his pitch usage numbers from this past season:
As he started to use his splitter more in 2022 (he used it just 14.3% of the time in 2021) Walker saw more success with that pitch. Batters hit .195 against it and slugged .267. He had a whiff rate of 29% with his splitter.
Here is a clip of his splitter in use:
He also had success with his slider (.237 BA) and cutter (.154 BA) in 2022. The Phillies as an organization have recently started to have most of their pitchers throw some type of slider and/or cutter combination. Do not be surprised if Walker has an increase in those pitches next season as the Phillies will likely look to make adjustments to his repertoire as a whole.
Here is a clip of his slider in use:
Walker will likely be thrown into the mix as the fourth starter for the Phillies as Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez will be ahead of him.
Overall, this is a solid signing by the Phillies. The only knock one can make is the $18 million annual average value of the deal, but with no qualifying offer tied to Walker, along with prices for starting pitchers in this year’s market, they signed him to about the going rate for a pitcher of his quality.
The Phillies recognized they needed another starting pitcher and got one. With their plans to seemingly use a number of their younger pitching options as their fifth and sixth starters throughout 2023, Walker can provide solid innings in the middle of the rotation.
Just like plenty of other relief pitchers, Strahm has struggled to find consistency throughout his career. He was used as a starter earlier in his career at times but hasn’t started a game in the big leagues since 2019.
The lefty pitched 44.2 innings for the Boston Red Sox this year, with 52 strikeouts and a 3.83 ERA. The Phillies were short on left-handed relief options and Strahm will likely be the second-best lefty used out of their bullpen behind Jose Alvarado.
Strahm’s arsenal includes a 4-seam fastball, slider, curveball, sinker, and changeup. This is his usage of those pitches and batter’s statistics against them from this past season:
|Pitch||Usage||Batting average against||Slugging percentage against|
He isn’t a flame-throwing lefty (his 4-seamer averaged 94.2 MPH in 2022), but he can be effective when he’s using his fastball and his breaking balls properly.
Here is a clip of his slider and fastball in use:
He was able to get both right-handed and left-handed batters out in 2022, which is always a plus when talking about a relief pitcher. Strahm’s role in the bullpen will be interesting to monitor.
Dave Dombrowski recently mentioned they would like to add to the back of their bullpen. It could be possible they see Strahm as that kind of pitcher, but we will have to wait and see.
Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the Phillies’ front office clearly had a plan heading into the Winter Meetings. They added a shortstop on Monday and were busy on Tuesday night by bringing in Taijuan Walker and Matt Strahm.
Both pitchers add length to Philadelphia’s pitching staff, which was much needed heading into 2023.
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Featured Photo: Twitter / @PhilliesCBP