Dodgers’ third baseman, Justin Turner, is having a season to remember. The All-Star Break is nearing, and there are some whispers about Turner possibly winning the NL Batting Title. With an average close to .400, it should be a no-brainer that he should win it. However, some injury complications and tough competition may reduce his chances at winning the 2017 NL Batting Title.
First, let’s take a look at the qualifications of winning a batting title. Since 1957, a player must have the highest batting average and have met the minimum number of plate appearances. That minimum number is summed to 3.1 plate appearances per scheduled team game. In a 162 game season, the number rounds out to about 500 plate appearances.
However, as of 1967, if the player with the highest average does not meet the minimum number of plate appearances, the remaining number needed to qualify will be counted as hitless at-bats. The player with the highest average after everything is quantified wins the title. This rule became known as the “Tony Gwynn rule” because it allowed him to win the title even though he was four at-bats short of the minimum.
So those are the rules. Now, let’s take a look at Justin Turner’s chances with those rules.
Turner clearly has the highest average among starting position players at .379 after Wednesday night’s loss. That average is also 20 points clear of Mike Piazza’s record for highest Dodgers average through the All-Star Break. Buster Posey has the highest average with the minimum number of PAs at .344. Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman are tied with .340 averages each. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best players in the game and is also in the conversation at .327, but I’ll focus on the Posey, Zimmerman, and Murphy.
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Turner is about 12 plate appearances short of the bare minimum to qualify for the title. The Dodgers have played 79 games before Wednesday’s game. Following the 3.1 plate appearances rule, 244.9 plate appearances are needed. Turner is at 233.
12 plate appearances are about three games that Turner needs to join the race with Posey, Zimmerman, and Murphy. If the season were to end today, Turner would finish with a .355 average after including the 0-12 penalty for not meeting the requirement. Assuming neither one of the three other players raises their average above that mark, Turner would be the batting champion.
The red-bearded slasher missed time due to a hamstring injury between May 18th to June 9th. Since his return though, he’s shown no signs of slowing down his tear. In fact, he’s hitting even better with a .400 average in June compared to .333 in May.
The San Francisco Giants may have sunk into an abyss, but their star catcher didn’t. Buster Posey, the 2012 batting champion, has maintained remarkable consistency with his hitting. It doesn’t look like the three-time World Champion will tank anytime soon, but his numbers are decreasing ever so slightly. In April he hit .354, in May his average dropped 10 points, and in June it dropped seven. If this slight monthly drop continues, it should put Turner in a good position despite his lack of plate appearances.
Ryan Zimmerman is showing signs of slowing down. After years of both offensive and defensive struggles, Zimmerman had the success he and Nationals fans craved in the first two months of the season. In April he hit .420 with 11 homers and 29 RBI. Those were better than Justin Turner’s numbers now. Though in May, he hit a “measly” .319. Then June came, and he only hit .275. That now leaves him tied for third with his teammate, Daniel Murphy, at .340.
The man who stands to Zimmerman’s right may be a bigger threat to Turner’s bid than Zimmerman. Murphy lost to DJ LeMahieu by one point last year, finishing with a .347 average. Since the 2015 postseason, Murphy’s been one of the toughest outs in baseball. This year hasn’t changed much. Unlike Zimmerman, he’s hitting better as June progresses. After hitting .343 in April and .302 in May, he’s hitting .372 in June. Though Posey’s the only past winner, Murphy’s proven he’s capable of winning it through consistency.
Turner has tough competition, and his lack of plate appearances don’t help his case. Moreover, Turner plays for a team that has used its depth to rest its starters often. Turner is also the only one of the four top contenders who’s been on the DL.
Even though Turner deserves the title, there are several dependent variables that complicate his chances. It doesn’t look like the other three will take a seat for four games in a row to let Turner catch up, and injuries are unpredictable. Turner can only keep raking and not get hurt, so the lack of plate appearances don’t hurt him when everything’s summed up. If Turner can keep his average high enough, he can become the first Dodger, since Tommy Davis in 1963, to win the NL Batting Title.