If you were writing off Justin Turner after every hot streak he had, you would be pretty easily forgiven. Blocked by David Wright at the hot corner during a four-year tenure with the Mets, he put up major league average numbers in his limited time and did little to warrant much attention. The Dodgers picked him up as infield depth for the 2014 season, and he more than exceeded expectations with a 158 wRC+ batting line over his 322 plate appearance sample. While just barely more than a half season’s worth of games, it remained to be seen if Turner could continue his torrid pace. We saw more of the same in 2015, albeit with a bigger sample, tearing it up with a 142 wRC+ over 439 plate appearances – close to the full season 600 PA mark.
This year there were no injuries holding him back, no other infielders to block his path (although he has also become versatile with his positioning thanks to being blocked in the past), and he put up big numbers in big plate appearances. Over 622 times stepping into the batter’s box, Turner launched 27 bombs while hitting for a 124 wRC+. While his production rate may have fallen down some, putting up that mark over a full season puts him in line with elite players not just at his position, but in the entire league.
So obviously what we have is a good hitter, but what makes Turner truly exciting is that he just keeps adding power to his stroke. In his last year playing in New York, his isolated power was just at .105. In his first year in LA in 2014 he had managed to get it up to .158, around league averages. But the last two years saw him push up to .197 and then a blistering .218 ISO, placing him firmly among the league’s best power hitters. What’s crazy about this is he’s been able to do so while still maintaining a low strikeout rate (17.1% over the last three years) despite showing off huge power.
Complementing a power surge is usually some change in swing mechanics or approach, and Turner follows the pattern just fine. While being a high grounder hitting during his days with the Reds (his original drafted team), Orioles and Mets, the Dodgers have helped him start to add more degrees to that launch angle, putting more balls in the air and therefore hitting for more power. In 2014 he hit just 28.0% fly balls, but by 2015 it was up to 36.2%. This past campaign we saw it crack at an even 40.0%. While this isn’t as extreme of a split as some power hitters show, it allows him to keep his contact rates at their plus marks as well, hitting over .280 combined over the past three years.
There’s not a lot about Justin Turner’s performance to dislike, but the real problem with him is his age and late debut. He’s about to turn 32, an age where power is declining, not increasing like he’s been seeing, in a ballpark where homers are tougher to come by (provided the Dodgers re-sign him, although this is up for some debate and guesswork). So how sustainable is this?
Firstly, changes to approach and mechanics have longer lasting effects than just hot streaks, which is a point for Turner’s longevity. He also has excellent discipline rates, ranking among the best for power hitters which is where his current profile fits. And we also have peripheral data backing up the eye test and general numbers test. His hard contact percentage has been steadily increasing, up to 37.6% in 2016. He’s pulled the ball over 35% in each of the past two seasons while still spreading out all fields over 30%. And while he generally feasts on fastballs like a lot of hitters, his pitch type weighted values for sliders and curveballs were among the elites as well (10.8 and 7.1 runs above average, respectively). And for more, look at his isolated power heatmap:
He’s just crushing baseballs wherever they’re thrown. No part of that zone comes in below average, and the lowest part (up and away) is sandwiched between three squares with ISO over .300(!!!!).
Let’s pull that together. He’s hitting the ball hard, and in the air, while spreading it out to all fields. And no matter what pitch you’re throwing, he’s able to crush it. And no matter where you throw it, he still hits it. Justin Turner is easy to write off for future fantasy seasons because his age is a mark against him (fair) and he debuted late (unfair). The first concern is mitigated by mechanics and efficiency that make engineers salivate. The second is just totally made up nonsense, because plenty of players have debuted late into their careers and still wind up excellent. While it’s a little sad we haven’t gotten a chance to see young 20’s Turner take a serious chance at the league with his current skill set, it’s no reason to knock him down your draft board.
Justin Turner’s full season in 2016 showed what NL West fans were scared of – he’s a monster. Any fantasy owner should target him as a lower cost option that will still put up early round numbers.
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