Is Trea Turner worth a first round draft pick?

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. Being married with four children can put a dent into one’s social life. Thanks to my compassionate and considerate wife I’m given one free pass per week. So every Friday many of  societies finest meet up to have a few drinks, tell a few lies, and hopefully win some coin as dealers choice is the name of the game. What the games may lack in stakes is made up by the stories that are told. Various rehashing of familiar stories, new hot off the press topics, and of course, those stories that are void of any truth.

Without more understanding of the situation, taking things at face value is the easy thing to do. Fantasy baseball pundits seem to be falling victim to this over the last couple of seasons as miscast superstars have been a first round theme.

Last season that honor went to Carlos Correa whose stellar 2015 debut earned him an ADP among the Top 10 picks in Fantasy drafts. In 2015 that honor went to Anthony Rendon who produced like a superstar in 2014. His breakout season earned him an ADP among the Top 15 despite a lengthy injury history that came with the 2014 breakout.

2017 is shaping up to be the year of Trea Turner whose .342, 13 HR, 33 SB cameo in 2016 has generated plenty to be excited about. Turner is currently going 12th overall in ADP, very similar to that of Rendon in 2015, and has been selected as high as 6th. Does that story sound familiar to those Correa owners last season?

What’s really fueling the interest in Turner is the “hot off the press” topic of the stolen base scarcity. You cannot read or listen to anything without being reminded  about SB Scarcity. Naturally players with stolen base upside become aggressively pursued. Those who offer perceived plus production elsewhere become a perspective owners must have new toy.

Take Trea Turner’s 2016 and put it in the Extrapolater and you’re handed a .342 AVG, with 29 HR, 118 Runs, 89 RBI and 74 SB over a full 162 game season. Those statistic would produce a top overall season, so the tagline “even with a regression” seems to accompany Turner whenever he’s discussed. Regression has no rate, but for those love struck Turner supporters the regression meter is stuck on 10% or so. My regression rate for Turner isn’t quite as generous.

Let’s first begin to pick away at the AVG. While the .388 BABIP screams regression; Turner’s profile as a good runner and ground ball lean will likely lead to a favorable BABIP throughout his career. Turner managed to hit just .302 with a .369 BABIP in 83 games at AAA. Sure .302 is nothing to sneeze at but the MLE for a .302 AVG certainly isn’t factored at .342. Turner has surpassed 200 plate appearances at four different Minor League stops. In all but one of those his AVG was below .322. Once again .322 is nothing to be ashamed of, but the .342 mark from last season seems more destined to be in the .290 range.




Turner produced a very solid batted ball profile last season. A 34.8 Hard hit rate seems a little excessive, as does the 17.2% Soft contact. To put it in perspective those numbers were 10.7% Hard Contact and 25% Soft Contact in his 44 PA cameo in 2015 when he hit .225. Contact in general may not ultimately be as easy as Turner made it seem last year. Turner posted a 18.2% K rate last season; his prior career low was 18.1% in a 23 game cameo in low A ball. Turner’s minor league K% was about 20%. I realize this isn’t Javier Baez, but doesn’t it seem that a K% around 22 or 23% is more reasonable?

While K% isn’t the end all be all, it’s worth noting only Mike Trout (20.1), J.D. Martinez (24.8), and Freddie Freeman (24.7) posted a K rate north of 20% while still managing to hit .300 or more (among qualified hitters). .342 may be the face value, but .280-.290 seems like the more reasonable projection for me.

Prior to last season, Turner’s career high in home runs over a season was 9. He accomplished this in 2015 after hitting 5 HR in AA in 58 games, 3 HR in 48 games at AAA, and 1 HR in 27 games with the Nationals. That comes out to one HR about every 15 games. In his 83 game Minor League stint in 2016 he averaged one home run about every 14 games. With the Nationals that total was one in every 5.62 games, or nearly 3x more frequently than he had ever done on any level. Turner was essentially a more prolific power source than Mike Trout (5.48), Joey Votto (5.44) and George Springer (5.58).

Turner’s 34.8% Hard hit rate, paired with a lower than expected ground ball profile, helped aid the favorable HR/FB rate, creating the power profile I’m rather confident won’t be repeated at this stage of his career. Should the GB/FB profile hold moving forward I could easily see a scenario where the home run total may approach the low 20’s, but the AVG, and in effect OBP,  would really suffer. The AVG, and more importantly the stolen bases, could easily be Turner’s biggest casualties if Turner owners get what they’re expecting in the power department.

One other rarely mentioned narrative is the potential effect Dusty Baker could have. While Baker is often criticized his record speaks for itself, and after 21 years his managerial tendencies should be rather predictable. Baker has always appreciated his veterans, often times going above and beyond to support them.

Anyone recall Ryan Zimmerman’s misery of a 2016? Zimmerman batted 4th or 5th in 64 of his 115 games, all while compiling an OPS south of .675. On the other end of the spectrum we have Trea Turner. After being called up for a 3-Game series in early June last year, Turner manged just one start despite a 3 for 3 day.

The departure of Danny Espinosa was a clear indicator for me that this was Turner’s job from the start. While this may have seemed like a foregone conclusion, didn’t it seem to be Mike Rizzo’s way of saying, “Dusty we have our shortstop.”?

While my initial offseason concern has been addressed, the next, and perhaps most impactful question remains. Where does Turner hit in the lineup? Rosterresource.com currently has Turner hitting in the 2 spot behind Eaton and in front of Murphy and Harper. If Turner can manage 130-140 games in this spot this whole post will be even more of a waste of time than it already has been. I personally don’t see that being the scenario.

Both Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth have the OBP to be effective in the role, and Werth himself was the predominant number two hitter last season after Turner emerged.  So in comes Adam Eaton, another prototypical leadoff hitter who at 28, and with 521 career games under his belt, has more of a veteran feel to him. Haven’t we all heard enough of the “take some of the pressure off….” soundbites over the years? What if Turner struggles out of the gate? Is the leash really that long before Turner finds himself hitting 7th in the order?

The line between a leadoff hitting 1st Round pick and a batter hitting 7th as your top pick is razor-thin. Hitting 7th would take away maybe 6 PA per week. That would certainly hurt the run projection, and the influx of RBI potential wouldn’t be enough to offset it. Does the move down the lineup change his approach as a hitter? Does driving the ball become  his number one priority? Either one of these scenarios could begin to deteriorate Turner’s safest fantasy skill set, SB – which would also take a hit just simply because of the lower batting spot and its relationship to the pitcher spot.

At the start of last season Trea Turner was a top-10 prospect. That ranking was largely based on his elite speed. His hit tool was graded lower than both JP Crawford and Orlando Arcia. Prospect lists don’t always tell the whole story. They don’t always get every hitter right, and many of today’s best weren’t exactly can’t miss prospect types.

With all that said, how often has a player received moderate accolades as a hitter and immediately dominated the game, all within a 6 month period? The combination of these perceived limitations and the potential lineup positioning, as well as baselines that have yet to be established, provide me with no compelling reason to make Trea Turner a roster building block in 2017.

*****

Every Friday night located in arms reach of the table is a button that says bullshit. When pressed a robotic voice delivers various phrasing, all implying that the person who just spoke was full of it. So when one of the many cast of characters takes a story 2 layers too far, we quickly remind him that we’re on to his lying ways.

I  understand the appeal or Trea Turner; I’m well aware of the face value of 2016, and I whole heartedly agree that even with regression his draft price could return profit. Despite all of this, I would still have no hesitation calling Turner’s current ADP exactly how I see it. Now if I could only find the button.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.
Josh Coleman

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