Taijuan Walker could be the final piece for a championship-level Phillies pitching staff.
The Phillies did an incredible job improving their starting rotation and bullpen over the past two seasons. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola will enter 2023 as one of the MLB's best pitching duos, and the club has also highly ranked prospect Andrew Painter. Despite being 19 years old, there is a real chance Painter is the their fifth starter this season.
This leaves Ranger Suárez and newly-signed Taijuan Walker as their third and fourth starting pitchers — and they are both formidable options. We've already discussed how the left-handed Suárez has put himself in a position to expand on his postseason hot streak, and oddly enough, Walker's 2022 numbers resemble a right-handed Suárez.
In 2022, Walker started 29 games for the New York Mets and had a 12-5 record. Overall, the Mets went 16-13 in his starts. Walker faced 649 batters and recorded 132 strikeouts, while only giving out 45 walks. Walker tallied a 3.49 ERA, while allowing 153 hits, 61 earned runs, and 15 home runs. For comparison, Suárez also started 29 games with a 10-7 record — and the Phillies were 17-12 in the games he started. The left-hander faced 662 batters, earned 129 strikeouts, walked 58 batters, and had a 3.65 ERA. Suárez also allowed 149 hits, 63 earned runs, and 15 home runs.
Walker will likely wrestle the spot as the club's third starter away from Suárez as the season draws nearer due to his ability to display command over batters. In 2022, Walker recorded five games with nine or more strikeouts — a feat Suárez failed to do in the regular season.
Walker also has a more refined repertoire than his left-handed counterpart. According to Baseball Savant, Suárez relied on his sinker on 40.2 percent of pitches last year. Walker, on the other hand, displayed a healthier mix — throwing a four-seam fastball on 29.5 percent of pitches and a splitter on 27.6 percent of his pitches.
We are certainly cheering for Suárez to continue showing tremendous growth as a big-league pitcher. However, a season where Walker can step onto the mound and cement himself as the third starter in Philadelphia could go a long way to bringing another deep postseason run to the City of Brotherly Love.