24 January 2017

Adam Brett Walker: Chris Carter in the Rough

Around Baltimore, some of the more attentive and hopeful fans latched onto Adam Brett Walker as a diamond in the rough who could provide a performance similar to Chris Carter before he was designated for assignment upon Mark Trumbo's return.  Carter and Walker are mashers, but that similarity ignores potentially drastic ways in which these Walker differs from the others.  Those differences present unique challenges to Walker and a great amount of doubt in the industry as to whether he can overcome those challenges.  This doubt is well expressed in his transaction wire travels this past fall.

In December, the Orioles claimed Adam Brett Walker off the Milwaukee Brewers, a club that he had only been with for about two months.  The Brewers had claimed him off the Minnesota Twins.  Both of those clubs are bottom third clubs short on talent and great on opportunity.  When Milwaukee claimed Walker, they needed the Reds, Padres, Rays, Braves, Athletics, Diamondbacks, and Phillies to pass on him.  They did.  When the Brewers DFA'd him, the Orioles needed those seven clubs plus the Twins, Angels, Rockies, White Sox, Pirates, Marlins, Royals, Astros, Yankees, Mariners, Cardinals, Tigers, Giants, and Mets to pass on him.  They did and Walker graced the Orioles organization until his presence was put in DFA limbo as mentioned earlier.

Now, Adam Brett Walker is one of the best baseball players in the world.  He also has some of the greatest power of any batter in the world.  The main problem though is that Walker is quite likely unable to do much against the very best pitchers in the world.  There is a reason why Walker played last year at AAA and is on a 40 man roster.  He is quite good at baseball.  Indeed, Walker might be the 1,000 best baseball player in the world out of 5 or so billion, but that probably does not mean much for the Orioles.

However, he may not be the right kind of player to enjoy success in the majors.  Nor does he have the prospect cache or skill set that would provide him with ample opportunity at the major league level to prove doubters wrong.  Walker will likely need a venue to better showcase his skills and that might entail a trip abroad. If he took his bat to the KBO, our KANG model projects Adam Brett Walker as a 281/372/509 hitter with 47 home runs.  That might well turn someone's head and earn him a deal similar to the 3/15 deal Thames signed this past December.  It is a kind of performance that could earn Walker a few million a year as opposed to money he currently is seeing in Norfolk.

Anyway, I am ahead of myself.  Yes, this past offseason he has been compared to Chris Carter, a player who has been on the edge of a MLB roster for years.  Both are big guys and can hit the ball a mile. 

Below are Walker's numbers as a professional:

Minors (5 seasons)Minors2449124189744.251.310.486
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2017.

Here are Carter's numbers through age 24 (with his MLB lines deleted):

Year Age AgeDif Lev PA HR BB SO BA OBP SLG
2005 18 -2.4 Rk 262 10 17 64 .283 .350 .485
2006 19 -2.0 Rk-A 346 16 39 87 .273 .373 .522
2007 20 -1.8 A 545 25 67 112 .291 .383 .522
2008 21 -1.6 A+ 596 39 77 156 .259 .361 .569
2009 22 -2.3 AA-AAA 651 28 85 133 .329 .422 .570
2010 23 -4.0 AAA 551 31 73 138 .258 .365 .529
2011 24 -2.7 AAA-A+ 372 21 46 93 .278 .371 .544
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2017.

Both show substantial power, but there are a couple differences here that illustrate Carter as perhaps a better hitter.  For one, Carter's batting average ranged from .259 to .329 while Walker's ranged from .239 to .278.  Upper minors saw Walker in the low .240s while Carter was in the .280s.  That shows a rather significant difference in performance as it relates to meaningful contact.  Some SABR hobbyists still claim that batting average is meaningless, but it in fact can communicate quite a bit.  An MLB hitter should be able to maintain a respectable average in the minors.

The second bit of concern are the walk and strikeout differences between the two.  Carter certainly had his troubles coming up through the minors with more advanced pitchers.  He still shows trouble with making contact at the MLB level.  That said, it does not compare to what Walker has gone through.  I am at a complete loss as to who is successful in the majors while striking out 38% of the time in AAA.  Carter struck out at AAA less than 25% of the time.

Anyway, a major difference between Walker and Carter are strikeouts.  Walker's look incredibly high, so it might be good to see how his performance differs from others.  Here is a list of all players in the International League with over 350 PA and who struck out more than 30% of the time:
(min 350 PA)
Adam B Walker 2016 38.0%
Jon Van Every 2008 35.5%
Jason Martinson 2016 35.3%
Jason Martinson 2015 33.8%
Brandon Hicks 2011 33.7%
Jorge Vazquez 2011 33.2%
Mike Hessman 2006 32.7%
Wilson Betemit 2014 31.8%
Clete Thomas 2011 31.7%
Chris Dickerson 2007 31.5%
Vai Pascucci 2012 31.2%
Mike Hessman 2009 31.2%
JP Arencibia 2015 30.9%
Brent Dlugach 2010 30.8%
Ryan Strieby 2011 30.7%
Brent Clevlen 2008 30.7%
Brad Eldred 2008 30.7%
Mike Hessman 2007 30.7%
Matt Davidson 2014 30.4%
Justin Maxwell 2009 30.4%
Steven Moya 2015 30.3%
Coery Brown 2013 30.1%
Jordan Danks 2010 30.1%

That is a very sobering list of players.  A couple weekends ago, I tried to make Oriole specific comps for Walker.  They were: Jack Cust without the walks, Calvin Pickering without the contact, Brandon Waring without the position, Brandon Fahey with power.  Something like that.  Walker has a skillset that looks very challenging to succeed.  Looking at this one part of his performance, the above list shows not a single player who was much of a solution at the MLB level.

When I feel this certain about a performance-based scouting endeavor, I will seek out scouts in the field who I know who will soundboard these quantitative notions.  Both I talked to said I was on the ball with my analysis.  One told me that that the only reason why he stays on public top 20 organization lists is because he hits home runs off poor pitchers and is on someone's 40 man roster.  He noted that several organizations would want him in their system, but maybe a couple think he is worth bothering with if it costs a 40 man slot.  He thinks there is a bit of an echo chamber on Walker because Baseball America has been a tad aggressive on him, which makes him appear as more of a prospect in the public sphere than within the actual industry.

The second guy I talked to called him a 30 player (organizational filler) whose power will probably earn him a couple cups of coffee.  He said there are simply too many holes in the zone for him and advanced AAA arms with some knowledge of him could work the zone and avoid any contact.  On the Orioles, he thought it would be difficult for Walker to ever get a shot, but he could see a bottom rung club with little talent giving him 300-400 at bats.  He thought Walker could hit up to 20 home runs, but would have a very weak batting average.  He thought the profile plays nowhere.

Dan Szymborski was kind enough to give me a sneak peek at Walker's ZIPS projection.  He slashed 222/277/449 with 29 home runs.  It also projected him with 37 walks and 237 strikeouts.  If Walker is truly a below average defender, as suggested in scouting reports, then he would be a negative WAR player.  Similar comps include former Orioles Ken Gerhart and John Russell along with Hensley Muelens and Billy Beane.  The projection is a more favorable view than what I heard from the scouts, but this still falls short of Chris Carter territory.

That all said, Walker is a very good baseball player.  With his skillset, it is difficult to see where exactly he would fit into the Orioles active roster while earning regular playing time.  His low contact, high power minor league performance might play in the majors, but it really is quite a unique collection of skill levels.  If he could manage a bad year Chris Davis at the plate while manning a corner outfield position, then that works.  A .240, 35 home run bat can work out there.  However, we should remember that Chris Davis carries a .337 batting average in AAA.  Walker simply presents an extreme skill set that we have not seen recently in the upper minors and with which players like Mike Hessman could not really make it work.

Personally, my advice for Adam Brett Walker would be to find a way to the KBO as soon as possible.  Maybe he has to spend a year in Norfolk in which Harbor Park will not show off his skillset.  In the KBO though, he would be able to earn about ten times or more what he makes being on the 40 man roster in the minors.  With more cash in the bank, he can eat better, train better, live better.  Walker would have the opportunity to play in front of more energetic crowds than AAA sees.  He will also be able to come back to the States after dominating the KBO and find himself a solid contract in an organization where he wants to be.

Or, maybe, this is the year he forces everyone to recognize that he has MLB talent.


Anonymous said...

All you say is true, however, I would like him to have his cup of coffee before traveling abroad. The one thing this kid has done has been to stay VERY consistent with his OBP / SLG / and OPS year after year after year. His minor league numbers have been who he is at every level. His adjustments have been to stay true to those numbers year in and year out - Lol.

His minor league averages over a MLB 162 game schedule are 33 Doubles, 5 Triples, 35 HRs and 125 RBI and 220+ K's. Would those numbers fly in the MLB? There should be no gray area. It's either a yes or no? I can not see many teams balking on those numbers at a controlled $5000,000/per year. The question you and your scout friends raise is can he do that at the MLB level? His consistency tells me somehow he will find a way. He ALWAYS does year in and year out.

Also note: That against MLB Top 20 Pitching prospects through his minor league career, Walker has a lifetime 23% K rate in 422 ABs. Maybe it's the bad pitching in the minors that has been holding back his game? Think about it before you jokingly dismiss the concept. Deserves a Cup of Coffee before being shipped abroad is all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

And the only comparison to Carter is the HR power. Walker is a much better athlete and even defender at 1B. He was a 2nd team All American at 1B. He can even do the splits. As for his athleticism - Between college and the pro's - Walker has stolen 86 of 97 base attempts (89%). The kid has "worth" IMO


Walker doing the splits while playing 1B

Jon Shepherd said...

I wrote a whole article on this. I talked to three different people in the industry on this. Not exactly jokingly dismissing anything. Your argument simply does not stand up very well. If your only argument is that he is unlike everyone ever, it is not a strong argument. We have seen power with poor contact. We have seen it a lot. It almost always fails. Is there some line that automatically pushes success, we have never seen any evidence of a threshold like that.

Pip said...

Great article! It begs a question:
When you're looking at prospect stats, what's the one thing that most jumps out at you as an indication of major league success?
It doesn't seem to be mere power. Power without eye seems utterly wasted, based on this article. Is it contact rate, good eye( avoiding pitches outside the zone) or something deeper?

Jon Shepherd said...

As I have gotten more experienced, what jumps out at me is unbalanced performance. There are apparent thresholds that a batter needs to maintain to be successful at the next level.

vilnius b. said...

IMHO your suggestion that he go to the KBO is a great one. As you said, with extra cash in the bank everything about his lifestyle should improve. And hopefully that would translate into improvements at the plate.

Only one question: would such a move help bring down that K%? I can think of one power hitter (Park of Minnesota) who brought a high K rate with him to the U.S. and we all know how that worked out. Kim I think was considered more of high contact, high OBP when he came over.

Kang succeeded with the Pirates, but he was playing a premium position. I ask this only because I thought I read somewhere that managers in the KBO don't care that much about contact from power hitters. But then again, I could be wrong since it's been awhile since Kang came over and I'm pretty sure that's when I read that article.

Do you have any information that could clear this up?

Anonymous said...

My argument is simply - He has PRODUCED at every level and deserves a cup of coffee before dismissing his potential to overseas. Your argument is based on what "he is likely to do" at the MLB level. You might be right. My thinking is more in line with the 2017 Fangraph projections. Not a great K rate projection, but excellent power number projections (XBH / RBI totals & not just HRs). Also had the highest BABIP average of all Oriole players in Fangraph projections. Imagine if he can improve his contact rate slightly.



Out of curiousity - Where do those stat lines fall in your validation of a prospect? Do ISO and w/OBA mean anything in the grand scheme of things?

Jon Shepherd said...

As I noted in the other comment section, you are not really using a FanGraphs projection. You are using a ZiPS projection and that projection you are using says that his performance is below replacement level. You are saying, based on your evidence, that players with negative WAR projections deserve cups of coffee due to that level of projection. Do you see how that does not make sense?

By using your method of performance scouting, you are neglecting how pitching at each level is stratified.

ISO and wOBA are major drivers of projection, but other variables are highly impactful. Looking solely at them and neglecting the others kind of misses the boat.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking at all of it. I'm trying not to ignore the ISO and w/OBA and RC+, etc..
Walker has flaws! His production is worth that cup of coffee however. Period! That's my point. Is all I'm saying.

I bet Walker was the only AAA player in the minors who was a AAA team MVP and on a 40 man roster and did not get a cup of coffee in 2016. That's just wrong despite your outlook IMO.

Anonymous said...

The Twins thought enough of him to name him to their Organizational All Star team each of the last 4 years, yet didn't think enough of him to give him that cup of coffee. Wrong. They promoted Logan Shafer (now an Oriole) for a month long call up over Walker and he wasn't even on the 40 man roster. Wrong. And that's on the team that has the first pick in the draft. Wrong. Obviously there are other people out there who think like you, so I get it. I just think they were wrong and so are you.

What are the 5 most important stat lines for you as an evaluator? OBP? K/BB? OPS?

Anonymous said...

Agree to disagree

Anonymous said...

Maybe a good AAA player....

Anonymous said...

AAA International League Rankings
#1 in SO
#1 in ISO (with at least 100 games)
#2 in HRs
#3 in RBI
#3 in Extra Base Hits (not just homers)
#3 in Total Bases
#6 in SLG% (higher than any Norfolk Tide player)
#10 in BABIP (with at least 100 games)
#11 in wRC (higher than any Tide except Mancini)
#14 in Runs Scored (higher than any Norfolk Tide player)
#18 in OPS (higher than anyone on Norfolk Tide)
#22 in BB (higher than any Tide except Mancini)

*24 yrs old (1st AAA season)
*Team MVP on 80+ win team (1st AAA season)
*I'll take maybe good AAA player
*K's can't be the only above ranking that matters

Jon Shepherd said...

Projection models do not only look at strikeouts. Stop making it about strikeouts. Strikeouts are merely a major characterization of the player. All other attributes are being considered except team wins. Team wins mean nothing here.

Jon Shepherd said...

Top IL season comps statistically (2001-2010)
Ryan Ludwick
Michael Restovich
Alex Escobar
Jonathan Van EVery
Jason Dubois
Joe Borchard
Brad Eldred
George Lombard
Juan Diaz
Brent Clevlen

Top IL season comps statististically on age (2001-2010)
Brent Clevlen
Jeff Inglin
Curtis Granderson
Wladimir Balentien
Ryan Raburn
Kevin Cash
Justin Ruggiano
Brad Snyder
Rhyne Hughes
Aaron Herr

Matt P said...

Eh, he did have a 121 wRC+. I'm willing to agree that it's plausible to say that he's a good AAA player. But when you take defense into account, I think above average is fair.

Jon Shepherd said...

Walker's strikeouts and ISO make him pretty unique. Ryan Ludwick is the only one of the above that really is a close match. If you do a similar projection for someone like Trey Mancini, you would get 15 players closer to him than Ludwick's season was to ABW's. Mancini has 197 closer matches to him than Clevlen is to Walker. Jonathan Van Every would be close, but he walked about 45% better than average (Walker is 3% better). Borchard and Snyder are close, too, but, again, they walked significantly more.

For on age, the best comp would be somewhere between Brad Snyder and Rhyne Hughes. Ignoring age, something like Ryan Ludwick, who was a couple years older.

Unknown said...

#ABWBiggestFan - the fact that Adam Brett Walker is 24 and in his first AAA season, and that the was the team MVP, are not really positives. Most really good prospects/players reach AAA before they turn 24; and to be named MVP of an AAA team implies that you stayed with the team the whole season and were not promoted mid-year. Again, not really a positive point in regards to prospect status. HIs BABIP, combined with his batting average, also highlights his problems making contact. And comparing him to Norfolk players is problematic, if only because Norfolk is a much harder place to hit than Rochester.

Beyond that, what is your point, exactly? If your point is that Adam Brett Walker might provide production comparable to Chris Carter at a fraction of the cost, I concede that you may be right. If your point is that Adam Brett Walker is so good that he should be given that chance, you're overlooking the very real concerns about his contact rate and his defense. It's reasonable that teams would prefer options with fewer significant questions.

Pip said...

And FWIW, Walker got dumped into DFA limbo, so the whole discussion is moot.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, we do not know until January 29th what happens.

Anonymous said...

@Joe Reisel - the average age of a AA player is 23.8 and the average age of a AAA player is 28.2. Being an MVP at 24 on a AAA is an accomplishment. Most offensive players peak around 27 or 28 so being in AAA for a full year at age 24 is not in and of itself something to think poorly of.

Jon Shepherd said...

A few things...Adam Brett Walker is on level. This year, if spent in AAA, would be his first year behind a level. Average age in IL for batters is 26.5 and 26.6 for pitchers. He was 2.5 years below average age for AAA. That is a bit misguiding because AAA is a depth reservoir in addition to a run in the talent chain.

Being a team MVP in the minors is not much of an accomplishment. You need to be at a level a whole year, so you need to be good but not exceptional. Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Byung Ho Park, and Max Kepler were better. Jorge Polanco and Kennys Vargas look at least as interesting. There is a reason why no one really keeps track of team MVPs at a MiL level. They are mainly used as conciliation prizes.

Now, being 24 in AAA. That is decent, but in no way remarkable. Again, look at the above comment where I have on age players who did well for their clubs at the same age.

It simply is not remarkable.

Jon Shepherd said...

What is remarkable is that Walker's contract was purchased before the 2015 Rule 5 draft. Twins gave him a shot in the Fall League as well. So all year long he was on the 40 man roster for the worst team in baseball. A team that also had several injury issues. He was never called up.

Now, sadly, that is an accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

This whole argument is about me saying he deserves a Cup of Coffee. Never said he was an MLB star. Never said he was better than other players overall. I stated that he did accomplish equal or better in several statistical categories than Norfolk players, which should have been worthy of a cup of coffee on the worst team in baseball.

Doesn't matter I guess. The Braves claimed him. Maybe just maybe he gets a cup of coffee this year. Potential is there. All I said. Most wanted man of the 2016-17 off season. Lol