Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) hits a single against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
From the start of the season through April 27, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker hit just .230/.288/.230. It was an awful first 67 plate appearances and 18 games, especially given he put together a .283/.340/.431 showing (and 112 OPS+) in his previous two seasons at second with Pittsburgh.
He went from being owned in 95 percent of CBS leagues (and started in 77 of those) to just 77 percent ownership by week five of the season. He gradually slipped from there, as just 65 percent of owners were patient enough to wait by the time week 10 rolled around. But they were smart to do so, as Walker has been hitting like his old self since the end of the season's first month, despite what his ever-shrinking ownership rates suggest about his year.
Walker picked up two hits on April 28, including his first extra-base hit of the year. He had another extra-base knock the following game as well, and in those two and the 39 other games since, is hitting .297/.345/.445. That's essentially his production from the last two seasons, with just a dash of extra singles. Even with this, he's owned in just 69 percent of leagues, and started in 54 percent. ESPN has picked up on his hitting a bit more, as he has seen a 16 percent bump in ownership in the last seven days, but it's still behind where he began the year, despite doing exactly what he was drafted to do.
His season line is partially to blame for this. His .278/.329/.384 line might be around the league average in the real world, but the concepts of average and replacement level in fantasy are located in a much higher spot, since fewer players are required in a standard league. Walker ranks just 166 at CBS for the season, and therefore doesn't necessarily appear right at the top of anyone's waiver wire, but in the last month, ranks over 100 spots better.
He's not perfect, by any means, but he's shown himself to be more consistent than the more popular Gordon Beckham, and ranks ahead of Michael Young, Dustin Ackley, and Howie Kendrick despite his month-long struggles. He's a useful, if easily-forgotten, player at the keystone, and if your team is in need of assistance at that position, even in a mixed format, he should be capable of giving you a hand.