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Where does Neil Walker rank among second basemen?

Neil Walker has been one of the best power-hitting second basemen in the majors the last few seasons. AP Photo

Earlier this month, Buster Olney ranked the top-10 players in baseball by position. Five Mets made the cut or were listed as honorable mentions (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson). That got us to wondering where other prominent Mets should rank. This article series takes a look.

Neil Walker

Walker represents a significant upgrade over Daniel Murphy with regards to overall performance. He’s bettered Murphy’s Wins Above Replacement in each of the last four seasons, totaling 12.3 WAR to Murphy’s 6.6.

Walker’s offensive strength is his power. He outhomered Murphy 69-42 over the last four seasons and his slugging percentage was almost 20 points better (.435 to .416). On defense, Walker is considerably better. Though both came through the minors as third basemen, Walker was more adequate upon converting to second. He’s at +1 defensive runs saved the last four seasons. Murphy is at -40.

That said, Walker didn’t make the cut for Buster’s top-10 or the “also considered” list. Where should he rank?

Statistically speaking

If we just go by numbers, Walker is right on the cusp of the top 10. Last season, he ranked 13th in WAR among those whose primary position was second base. He rates 10th at the position if we go back to the start of 2014, ninth if we go back to 2013 and eighth if we start at 2012.

In fairness, if you take a look at Buster’s list, you’ll see it’s a challenge to slide Walker in for any of those players. The best arguments for Walker are when matched up with Logan Forsythe of the Rays (whose rating is based on 2015 success) and free agent Howie Kendrick (a match for Walker in terms of consistency, though Walker was considerably better in 2015).

So currently, you could make a case that Walker is underrated and it’s not bad for a player to have that as a chip on his shoulder heading into his free-agent year. Walker has that and the fact that the Pirates decided it was better to trade him than to pursue a long-term contract to motivate him in 2016.

What the scouts think

Perhaps not surprisingly, Walker rates well with scouts, who like what he brings with his bat and his glove. The feeling is also that the Mets got him at the right time, since he’ll soon be a free agent.

“He’s the kind of player you have to see every day to appreciate,” said one with whom we spoke. “I’d definitely have rated him (in or just outside the top 10).”

Moving forward

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPs system projects Walker’s slashline at .261/.330/.440, which would mean an eight-point drop from his 2015 batting average, but a 14-point boost in OPS from three more home runs. It has him a hair below average on defense, which when combined with his other numbers produces a 3.0 WAR. The last time the Mets had a 3-WAR second baseman was Jose Valentin in 2006.