Justin Turner has been one of the Dodgers’ best players for the last three seasons, which led him to earning a four-year $64 million contract this offseason. Pressure is on him to continue this trend and live up to the money.
Prior to the Dodgers signing Justin Turner for the 2014 season, the “Red Turn” was a .260 hitter with eight home runs across a career 841 at-bats. His acquisition was not met with any excitement or buzz and rightfully so; he had not done anything spectacular (yet). He was signed as bench depth and nothing more.
Three years later, he is the Dodgers’ starting third baseman, arguably their most valuable position player, one of the best hitters in baseball, and just signed a big money deal. The Long Beach native epitomizes a a late-bloomer and a “never give up” attitude. He has gone from a 29-year-old borderline MLB player to a star third baseman and fan favorite for a championship contending team in the city of Los Angeles.
Turner has gradually improved and become a middle-of-the-order bat for Los Angeles, and he has not disappointed. He has been a .296/.387/.491 hitter with 50 home runs in his three years with the Dodgers while, according to Baseball Reference, accumulating a 13.1 WAR. He is coming off of his breakout season which saw him hit .275/.339/.493, slug 27 home runs and 34 doubles, and post a 5.0 WAR.
However, those numbers are deflated because of his slow start to the 2016 season. After the first two months of the 2016 season, he was hitting .235/.335/.343 with three home runs and was truly disappointing and making his first two seasons in Los Angeles look more like a fluke. However, you can argue that he was still recovering from the knee surgery he had during the 2015 winter, and was trying to get his legs back under him.
That claim seemed to have validity, as from June 4th to September 30th (the two games in October were a wash as the Dodgers had won the division already), Turner hit a spectacular .303/.371/.546 with 24 home runs. As great as Corey Seager was last season, to me it seemed that Turner was more valuable to the team at times. It looked as if he was carrying the team for a long time, as a lot of his home runs and RBIs were always timelier and more clutch to me.
Throughout his entire tenure, he has always came through when needed. Whenever Los Angeles needed a run, he’d hit a home run. When runners were on-base, he’d drive them in. When a hot shot was hit towards third base, he’d snag it with impressive reflexes and a great glove. He is just plain old productive and consistent.
His value was even more inflated as he was the number three hitter and the only good right-handed hitter in a lineup full of left-handers. Having said that, last year he had one of the craziest splits I’ve ever seen from the right-handed hitter. As a righty, you would expect him to be a better hitter vs. southpaws but that wasn’t the case. In 172 at-bats vs. lefties, Turner hit .209/.303/.337 compared to .305/.356/.563 in 384 at-bats against righties.
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It is quite peculiar, and I’d argue that it would have been better if those splits were flipped because the Dodgers struggled mightily against southpaws. The 32-year-old needs to improve in that department to take the next step in becoming one of the most complete hitters in all of baseball.
Another great aspect about Turner’s game is that he has shown up in his last two playoff appearances. In the 2015 NLDS Turner hit .526/.550/.842 in 19 at-bats while hitting .400/.591/.733 in 15 at-bats during the 2016 NLDS. In 56 postseason at-bats, the Red Turn is a career .357/.471/.607 hitter.
Even with him being 32, do not expect any regression at the plate anytime soon because he is relatively young in terms of MLB experience (704 total games) and his peripherals were great last season and have actually improved in each of the last three seasons.
Last year he had a .293 BABIP, which is below the .300 MLB average, so expect his average to improve, even if by just a tick. Now throw in the fact that he had a career high 37.6% hard-contact rate (which is excellent) and a great 40.0% fly-ball rate. His numbers in 2014 and 2015 weren’t as good but they were still pretty darn good. He doesn’t strike out that much, is terrific at extending his arms and driving the ball to the opposite side of the field, while also being great at turning on an inside pitch and sending it down the third base line. He’s just a great hitter in general.
On the other side of the diamond, Turner does not serve as a liability either. According to Fangraphs, Tuner graded out as one of the best defensive third baseman in the entire league. He’s no Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, or Manny Machado, but he is part of that second tier of defenders at the position.
Taking everything into account, I believe that Justin Turner will pick up from where he left off last season. He is healthy, rested, and ended the season hot. In my opinion, he has turned into the new “Mr. Reliable” for the Dodgers as he delivers when needed to and has been available for most of the games played. He is a top-seven third baseman and I see him hitting somewhere in the realm of .285/.350/.490 with 24 home runs and being a defensive rock at the hot corner.