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Taijuan Walker Mets home opener 2021 TREATED

Taijuan Walker Mets home opener 2021 TREATED

When Mets right-hander Taijuan Walker came out of the gate on Thursday with his fastball reaching as high as 97 mph, eyebrows were raised.

And when Walker’s average fastball velocity stayed in the mid-90s even after the adrenaline of the first inning of a home opener in front of fans at Citi Field wore off, it seemed that the Mets could potentially have a game changing situation on their hands when it comes to what Walker could mean for their rotation in 2021.

Yes, Walker had serious potential and upside even before the velocity jump.

But if Walker is able to maintain it throughout the season, the Mets might have gotten themselves an absolute steal in free agency.

Speaking after the game, Walker said being another year removed from Tommy John surgery might have contributed to the increase, and sounded hopeful that it could be part of a new normal.

“It could be further out from Tommy John, mechanics, and honestly, having fans in the stands again,” Walker said of his increased velocity. “My first start of the year, I was definitely amped up, that definitely, probably played into it, too.

“I just think that, definitely just being a few years removed from Tommy John now, and just been working my butt off (has helped). Making sure my arm strength is good, and been long tossing and basically doing everything I need to do.”

Walker’s average fastball velocity on his four-seamer on Thursday was 95.4 mph.

To put that in context, via Baseball Savant

Walker’s average velocity on his four-seamer during the 2020 season was 93.2 mph, and you have to go all the way back to 2016 for the last time his four-seamer averaged more than 94 mph in a season (it was 94.6 mph that year).

The last time Walker averaged 95 mph or higher on his four-seamer was in 2014 — his second season in the majors — when it came in at 95.2 mph (he averaged the same speed on the pitch during his rookie season in 2013).

On Thursday, Walker paired his four-seam fastball with a slider that he used just over 31 percent of the time. And he threw his sinking fastball (which averaged 94.8 mph) just under 22 percent of the time.

Now, this is not to say that what Walker did on Thursday is a sure sign of things to come in 2021.

But that his velocity stayed in the mid-90s after the early-game adrenaline wore off is surely a good sign.

Beyond Jacob deGrom, the Mets came into the season with one pitcher who profiles near the top of a rotation (Marcus Stroman), another who is a true No. 2 and could be back from a hamstring injury by the end of April (Carlos Carrasco), and one pitcher working his way back from Tommy John surgery who is a legitimate ace when he’s right (Noah Syndergaard).

For now, both David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi are in the rotation. And they are legitimate big league pitchers with upside of their own.

By the end of May, though, the Mets’ rotation could look like this:

Jacob deGrom, RHP
Noah Syndergaard, RHP
Carlos Carrasco, RHP
Marcus Stroman, RHP
Taijuan Walker, RHP

Before Walker’s velocity increase, the starting five above was already likely to be viewed as the best in baseball.

But if the new normal for Walker is close to what we saw on Thursday at Citi Field, the Mets’ rotation will be even more formidable and dangerous than originally thought.