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Neil Walker: The Invisible Man

Neil Walker had a breakout in 2014, yet no one seems to trust a repeat of the power totals in 2015. Should you be?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What is interesting about fantasy sports is the seeming immunity that some players have to recency bias. For some guys, a breakout season is accepted without question. For others, an entire season can be marginalized.

In my humble opinion Walker isn't getting the love he should be following his superb 2014 campaign. The regression camp is at full strength with regard to his 2015 outlook. But you're no lemming, are you? You won't blindly accept this general attitude of regression without first doing a little research...right?

If you are interested in a potential stud for a mid-round price, reading further seems like a good idea for you. If you prefer the lemming routine, well--enjoy your dose of overrated Jose Altuve.

Even a cursory look at Walker's spray chart from last season is cause for hope. See for yourself:


Source: FanGraphs

If nothing else, the man is balanced. He is a switch hitter whose power comes from left-handedness versus righty pitchers, but he still hits for a serviceable average as a right-handed batter. He's at .264 for his career with 6 home runs as a right-handed batter, compared to .276 with 71 home runs as a left-handed batter. So if you need a home run on Sunday night to put you over the top, make sure Walker isn't facing a lefty pitcher. But other than that scenario, he's got the goods.

In 2014, only three second basemen hit over 20 home runs. Walker is one, Brian Dozier and Anthony Rendon are the others. Obviously Dozier and Rendon offer more speed for your fake team, which is why they are ranked higher than Walker by most pundits. But if you load up on outfielders early and decide to punt stolen bases at your 2B position, Walker is one of only a handful with 20-homer potential in 2015 and should be a quality middle-round target if you decide to wait a while at the position.

Walker is walking a little less as he gets older, as his 7.9% walk rate last season was his lowest mark since 2010. It's also lower than his career 8.3% walk percentage. However, he is striking out a little less, with his K% stabilizing at 15.4% over the last two seasons. That's better than his career mark of 17.1% and signifies that the Pirates second baseman is making some good contact even though he's not walking as much. In my opinion, Walker's power is then a welcome asset to the fake game. He may not be top-notch in runs and RBIs, but he is going to be dependable in those categories and an asset in home runs.

Something else that gives me cause for hope in 2015 is Walker's BABIP numbers. Walker's career BABIP is .307, but last season he was at .288 for the year. Steamer is projecting a BABIP of .302, which makes a .270 batting average a pretty safe bet in 2015--especially considering that Walker is hitting .273 for his career.

The only knock on Walker as a player is that he is not an asset in the stolen base category. Steamer projects three stolen bases in 2015, but Walker hasn't reached that mark since 2012. If you draft him, you do so knowing that he is a liability in this one category. A small price to pay for some solid dependability everywhere else, if you're asking me.

Consensus ranks at Fantasypros list Walker as the 12th second baseman and the 124th overall player. That makes him a Round 11 player in a typical 12-team league. In 2014, Walker finished 9th in the second base ranks in my OBP league. So he's being marked for a slight regression this season, but I'm okay with that come draft day. I'm not suggesting that he is going to suddenly morph into a 30-homer guy--but I do think he is a safe play at the 2B position this season.