The date is May 16, 2017, and over the last 15 games Trea Turner has been worth -0.3 Wins Above Replacement. If that sounds bad, that’s because it is bad. For Turner it’s not just a slump, a ding, a blip, it’s literally the worst fifteen game stretch of his entire Major League career. If you look at the linked graph, the next worst time in his career was his first fifteen games, where he was worth -0.1 WAR. Yet if you just waited two more measly games, Turner had upped his rolling average to an even zero, and from then on he has never been worth less than a replacement level player for any 15-game stretch in his entire career. That is, not until the first game of Sunday’s double header, where his rolling value (despite hitting a home run) dipped below zero for the first time since his 17th game in the bigs.
So what in the name of Bryce Harper’s smeared eye black is going on here? How was a player predicted to be one of the best shortstops in the game suddenly as bad as a D.C. team in say… Game 7 of a playoff series? (Too soon? I think that was too soon). Well, as always with a player performing below what his skill set and all the smart people say he should be performing, one of the first things to look at is some luck based metrics. Eureka! When we take a peek at Turner’s 15-game rolling BABIP we can see that his .209 BABIP is by far the worst he has ever had in his career — except for the first sixteen games of his MLB adventure. So just like his rolling WAR we looked at earlier, this stretch is a massive anomaly for Turner, and by his 17th game, where he moved himself to replacement level for the first time in his career over 15 games, he was sitting at a .286 BABIP, a number he never went below again until the first game in Sunday’s double header.
So we have solved the whole issue right? Turner has been getting unlucky and it’ll all change when the sample size gets a little bigger. Nothing to see here, everyone move along and stop worrying. There’s definitely no reason to think the league has made some sort of adjustment on where to pitch Trea and has… what? They can do that? Well those sneaky little…
On May 5th, when the Nationals leadoff hitter’s wRC+ (weighted runs created plus where an average Major Leaguer is a 100) over a fifteen game period sat at a robust 167, the league had been attacking Turner with fastballs (intentionally or not) out over the plate and elevated and saw him making good contact rates with those pitches. Over the last week or so they have transitioned to trying to pound him up and in with fastballs and exploit what looked like a contact gap in his swing so far this year. While Turner has been very willing to swing at those pitches, he has still displayed what may be an emerging weakness this year against pitches at the top of the strike zone and in on his hands. Turner is having far more trouble making contact against fastballs in that part of the strike zone when compared to his entire career up to May 6th.
From my “eye test” vantage point Turner has just seemed “in between” on a lot of pitches. He’s trying to cover everything and that makes him late to react to that fastball up and in. He is either missing (as those contact rate figures show) or fouling them off repeatedly. When you watch a Turner at bat lately his frustration is readily apparent either through disgustedly shaking his head after fouling off pitches last year that he punished, or when he spikes his helmet or bat when a ball he hits hard fails to drop in.
Like most young hitters learning their way around the league, Turner has shown he has the skill set to dominate the first plan pitchers have come up with. Now the cat and mouse game begins where he has to prove that he can adapt to each and every new trick they throw at him. This current problem seems more likely than not a momentary blip — he has shown he can handle this pitch location before — but in a lineup that has exceeded expectations dramatically so far, one of the players that was considered a key cog before the season began is still struggling to get his season off the ground the way the baseball world thought he would.Tags: Nationals, Nats, Trea Turner, Washington Nationals