Phillies Season Preview: Taijuan Walker projects for a heavy workload again this year

The right-hander will once again see a heavy workload in 2024, but questions remain about his velocity.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Mets / Adam Hunger/GettyImages

The next player in our Philadelphia Phillies 2024 Season Preview Series is starting pitcher Taijuan Walker.

Previous season previews: José AlvaradoAndrew BellattiAlec BohmConnor BrogdonNick CastellanosRodolfo CastroKody ClemensJake CaveDylan CoveySeranthony DomínguezDarick HallKolby AllardBryce HarperJeff HoffmanOrion KerkeringRafael MarchánBrandon MarshYunior MartéMichael MercadoMax CastilloNick NelsonAaron NolaLuis OrtizCristian PacheJ.T. RealmutoJohan RojasMichael RuckerWhit Merrifield, Cristopher Sánchez, Kyle Schwarber, Edmundo Sosa, Gregory Soto, Bryson Stott, Matt Strahm, Garrett Stubbs, Ranger Suárez, Spencer Turnbull, Trea Turner

We'll look back at Walker's 2023 performance and then examine where he might end up this season using the popular Steamer and ZiPS projection systems, which can be found on FanGraphs.

Taijuan Walker 2023 stats and 2024 projections

2023 Stats: 31 GS, 172.2 IP, 15-6 record, 4.38 ERA, 4.53 FIP, 1.31 WHIP, 138 SO, 71 BB, 2.5 fWAR

2024 Steamer: 31 GS, 175 IP, 10-11 record, 4.76 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 1.31 WHIP, 135 SO, 64 BB, 1.6 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC: 31 GS, 169 IP, 9-11 record, 4.67 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 132 SO, 62 BB, 2.0 fWAR

Taijuan Walker 2024 season preview

Ahead of the 2023 season, the Phillies signed Walker to a four-year, $72 million deal.

His first year with the ballclub was a rocky one. In 12 starts from April 3 through June 1, he put up a 5.65 ERA. During his next five starts, he put up a minuscule 0.84 ERA before that ballooned to 4.86 through the last 14 starts of the season.

This year, Walker's spring got off to a delayed start. After personal reasons originally kept him away from camp, he felt soreness in his right knee during a bullpen session that put his spring on hold.

In one start, he gave up one earned run, struck out three and walked one batter. In an intrasquad scrimmage game on Friday, he stretched out to three innings, giving up six runs (three earned) on 10 hits while striking out two and walking none. Walker will make his second official start of spring training Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles.

Dating back to the fall, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that the team is happy with its starting rotation heading into the season. It'll be up to Walker and the others to prove the organization right.

Walker's usage is projected to remain on par with last season

In 2023, Walker reached a career-high in innings with 172 2/3 and starts with 31. While he didn't see any action in the postseason, it was his biggest year in terms of workload.

Heading into 2024, he's expected to carry a workload in the same ballpark. While Steamer has projected him for 175 innings, ZiPS DC isn't far behind with 169. Both have him slated for the same number of starts as last year — 31.

On FanGraphs' depth chart for the Phillies, Walker projects as the No. 3 starter, behind Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola but ahead of Cristopher Sánchez and Ranger Suárez. Out of the five, though, he's projected to be at the bottom of the pack in strikeouts per nine innings (7.0), walks per nine (3.3), ERA (4.72), FIP (4.66) and WHIP (1.37), according to ZiPS DC predictions.

All eyes will be on Walker's velocity

Last year was a roller coaster in terms of velocity for the right-hander. There were stretches with consistent speed and stretches where his velocity drastically fluctuated from start to start.

After averaging 94.5 mph with his four-seam fastball in 2021, that dropped to 93.7 mph in 2022 before falling to 92.8 mph last season, according to Baseball Savant. To go along with the drop in velocity, he lost command of his pitches more often than usual, handing out the most walks of his career (71).

In two spring training innings so far this year, his four-seamer is sitting at 89.4 mph. However, out of 38 pitches, he has only thrown it seven times.

Todd Zolecki of relayed comments Walker made during his first start of the spring: "Just stay strong all year, keep the velocity consistent. I think if that's consistent, then my numbers will be pretty consistent."

However, Walker noted that he expected his velocity to be down, saying: "Only because of my build-up. I really got only one live BP in, a couple of bullpen [sessions]. But, yeah, I mean, it's expected. … I'm a little behind. I'm just playing catch-up a little bit."

Manager Rob Thomson also isn't worried about the slow start with his velocity, telling Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Yeah, [being behind schedule] is all it is. And that's typically how he is. When he starts his spring trainings his velocity is usually down, and he builds up from there. He's one of those guys. I have no concerns about him."

Last year, the 31-year-old had outings where velocity would improve the deeper he got into games, and the team also tried to give him extra rest between starts when possible.

There's no doubt Walker will be part of the team's starting rotation if he stays healthy through the rest of spring training. With the delayed start to his spring, all eyes will be on the radar gun to see if the right-hander can build up his velocity with more reps.

Expect Walker to be an innings-eater for the ballclub, and if he can keep his velocity up and keep command of his pitches, he could be the surprise of the rotation in 2024.