After watching Neil Walker make a pretty spectacular grab to rob Jason Michaels, I started wondering how bad he's actually been at 2nd base this year. He's had a reputation for most of his professional career as being a poor fielder; first at catcher, then 3rd base, now at 2nd. He occaisonally makes some poor decisions, but how has he been all year?
Neil Walker played his first professional game at 2nd base in 2010, his age 24 season and his 7th professional season. He played 21 games there, making 1 error for a .990 fielding % and a 4.67 range factor/game.
He premiered at 2nd for the Pirates later that year, making 7 errors over 105 games (all fielding, none throwing) for a .985 fielding % (league average was .984) and compiling a 4.34 RF/G (league average was 4.73) Slightly below average, but not horrendous, especially considering he'd played all of 21 games at 2B professionally before then.
He's doing even better in 2011. Over 89 games (not including tonight), he's made 4 errors (all throwing) for a .991 fielding % (league average is .985) and a 4.99 RF/G (league average is 4.74). He leads NL second basemen in putouts, RF/G, and range factor/9 innings. He's 2nd in putouts,3rd in assists, and 4th in fielding %. He's 3rd among 2B (behind Orlando Cabrera and Dan Uggla) in UZR at -5.2. He even appears (very lowly) on this unofficial Web Gem scoreboard.
Brandon Phillips won the Gold Glove last year and probably will again this year (only because name recognition is the most important factor in that voting). Maybe Walker doesn't belong in that conversation (although his .1 dWAR is the same as Phillips'), but he's definitely outplayed his reputation as a butcher in the field.
Note: I know that errors and fielding % aren't accurate indicators of actual fielding prowess, but the advanced metrics (even though they seem to agree with me) are a little more difficult to quantify and digest.