Dodgers: Red Turn Picking up Steam
You may think of the Dodgers as a flashy team that does everything in style, but they’re a squad full of grinders led by their heart and soul, Justin Turner, who regularly sets the momentum for the rest of the lineup. And who better to epitomize this grinder mentality the front office wants, than a productive 34-year-old guy who’s had to endure ups-and-downs throughout his career?
As elite as Cody Bellinger has been in 2019, and as well-oiled of a machine the Dodgers’ offense has been, it’s not the same with a lackluster Justin Turner. He is the real driving force behind the offense.
The third baseman changes the mentality of the ballclub when he’s on the field and serves as a calming presence, in turn improving the play of the entire team, more so than any other position player on the Dodgers.
He’ll draw out at-bats against the best of them while coming up with critical hits in crucial times seemingly every week, and getting the productive outs when needed. Take last season, for example.
Los Angeles infamously stumbled out of the gates to a 16-26 record, with Turner sidelined due to a fractured wrist from Spring Training. But, their season turned around when he returned in mid-May, going 63-40 in his 103 games en route to winning the NL West for the sixth-straight time.
And after hitting two of the Dodgers’ four home runs in Sunday’s rubber match with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Turner now has 19 on the season, putting him on pace to reach the 20-homer mark for the third time in four seasons.
On the year, the 34-year-old is hitting a robust .287/.369/.490 (125 OPS+) with 19 home runs in 390 at-bats. But since the All-Star Break, he’s taken it up a notch, hitting .286/.351/.614 with nine home runs in 28 games (.942 OPS with three homers in August).
However, if you had seen JT play during the first month of the season, you would not have expected him to have posted such strong numbers or challenge the career-best of 27 home runs he set back in 2016.
Heading into a rivalry game with the Giants back in San Francisco on April 30th, Turner had zero home runs with a disappointing .670 OPS on the season.
And the reason why it was concerning is that he’s getting up there in age, and once you start to show any signs of a slowdown as you approach your mid-30s, the word “decline” is among the first to immediately pop into people’s minds.
And his importance in the clubhouse and on the field is why this slow start stood out. Manager Dave Roberts has called him the “glue” of the squad, and because he hits out of the two or three-hole every night, the lineup is only at its best when JT is producing.
But the veteran has eased all concerns, as he’s been riding a hot stretch on the back of a quiet power surge. And if you’ve followed him over the years, this isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s become a pattern to see him start slow before picking up full steam in the power department.
In 2016, Turner had three home runs and a measly .106 Isolated Power (ISO) through May 31st before unleashing 24 over the next four months (101 games) with a .556 slugging and excellent .264 ISO to close out the season.
In 2017, “Red Turn” had just four home runs through mid-May, although he owned a .946 OPS. But, that number came off the back of a robust batting average, as his below-average .114 ISO was nothing to be proud of.
Unfortunately, he proceeded to hurt his hamstring, which kept him out of the Dodgers’ next 18 games. However, he came back in June and proceeded to slug .546 on the back of a .249 ISO with 20 home runs in his next 91 games.
And this season, Turner’s slugging percentage sat all the way down at .300, with a .030 ISO before the game in SF on April 30th. Since then, he’s slugged .555 with a .262 ISO and all 19 of his home runs.
His power correlates with the temperature. It usually doesn’t get too hot until June, and the ball carries better in warmer air, and that’s important for a guy not known for his natural raw power.
Turner’s the type of hitter who, because of his swing, consistently gets a lot of flyballs and line drives, which obviously play better in warmer weather. And it’s when the veteran is elevating the ball at a high rate that he’s at his best, but it was clear that he wasn’t up to speed to begin 2019.
Through his first 28 games this season, JT had a 1.35 groundball-to-flyball ratio that is good if you’re a pitcher. But since then, he is spraying the ball around the entire field while dropping his groundball rate from 43.8% to 29%, and upping his flyballs from 32.5% to 42.7%, per FanGraphs. He’s even increased the number of line drives hit which, paired with the summer weather, turn into extra bases or the home runs that carry just over the fence.
This is the version of Justin Turner Dodger, and baseball fans have grown accustomed to seeing. He’s gotten better as he’s aged, and it’s difficult to see him dropping off a cliff anytime soon.
And it’s no surprise to see the Dodgers streaking once again, even with Cody Bellinger in a slump and Corey Seager still showing signs of rust. If Turner is present and right, things just seem to flow smoothly no matter what.
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Featured Image via Flickr/Arturo Paradavila III