Justin Turner, Marlon Byrd, and an Education in Hitting

Justin Turner isn’t Babe Ruth — mostly because only Babe Ruth is Babe Ruth. Of late, however, Turner’s numbers have been Ruthian in nature. Consider: since the beginning of 2014, only two hitters in all of baseball have been better than Turner, pound for pound. Two hitters! All this after the Mets released him. Turns out, he met someone on the 2013 Mets that changed his life.

Someone else’s life changed in 2013. This 35-year-old veteran outfielder with a little bit of power and a little bit of speed and a little bit of defense was coming off a down year and a suspension — circumstances which might otherwise be known as “the end of a career.” But he’d heard something about hitting he’d never heard before, and he’d spent the winter in Mexico putting his new philosophy to work. That year in New York, he was hitting for more power than he’d ever had before, and he was relevant once again. He thought he’d tell a red-headed backup infielder a little of what he’d learned.

That outfielder was Marlon Byrd.

Turner spent the season talking to Byrd — “his ideas fit really well with what I was trying to do and where I was trying to get to” — but the grind of the season didn’t provide enough time to practice and really implement those changes. “That offseason, even after the Mets let me go, I was hitting five days a week with Marlon,” Turner said.

Name BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Hard%
Marlon Byrd (02-12) 6.5% 17.1% 0.135 0.321 0.278 0.336 0.413 0.328 96 26.8%
Marlon Byrd (13-15) 5.7% 27.2% 0.201 0.339 0.271 0.320 0.472 0.343 120 38.3%

The veteran told the youngster things he’d never heard before. These things were “opposite of the older style.” These things occurred to Turner for the first time. These things changed Turner’s mindset at the plate almost immediately.

Name BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Hard%
Justin Turner (09-12) 7.4% 12.5% 0.100 0.286 0.254 0.324 0.354 0.303 92 18.2%
Justin Turner (13-15) 7.2% 17.3% 0.155 0.366 0.315 0.371 0.470 0.368 139 33.8%

“The old saying is ‘stay back stay back stay back.’ Well, he was talking about doing the opposite,” said Turner. “Not backing the ball up, going out and getting it. Being aggressive and get out there and get on your front side, get off your back side.”

After years of hearing about letting the ball travel deep in the zone, and giving the ball time, and staying back, Turner didn’t quite take to the advice right away. He challenged Byrd, but Byrd got him right back. “Pull up your film from all the balls that you’ve driven, and look where your contact point was,” the outfielder told the infielder. “Even though I thought I was backing the ball up, when I looked at the balls I was driving, they were out in front of the plate,” Turner admitted. “It really started making sense.”

Turner12Homer
A still from a 2012 Justin Turner home run, with the ball highlighted out in front of the plate.

So Turner worked with Byrd to move his contact point more out in front. Look at Byrd’s transformation before and after his work in the winter of 2012. Don’t focus too much on the leg kick. Byrd did have to spend time in Mexico learning how to hit with a leg kick, and the leg kick was part of the reason that Turner first talked to Byrd — Turner had hit with one forever — but the leg kick is only one part of the attempt to get out in front of the front foot earlier.

Before Byrd changed his approach:

After Byrd changed his approach:

And now Turner in 2012 (the homer from above):

And Turner in 2014:

You can see, particularly in the sideways angles, that the players shift their their weight earlier now than they did before. The leg kicks help, but there’s a difference in the weight transfer, as well. An aggression.

These guys have to be a little careful with the new aggression. As hitting consultant Dan Farnsworth pointed out, it has a drawback. “They can end up sliding forward so much that they lose their legs easily,” Farnsworth said. It’s fun to emulate a guy like Mike Trout, who hits this way, but Turner and Byrd need to make sure their timing doesn’t get them too far out in front.

There’s a possibility Turner was a bit miscast as a platoon righty, facing just lefthanders. His big-league splits — 21% above league average against righties, and 1% below against lefties — suggests as much at least. But Turner points out that his minor-league splits were better against lefties (.796 OPS vs LHP, .776 OPS vs RHP) and that big-league lefties throw cutters. “In the minors, they weren’t throwing cutters. Everything was going away from me, so it’s easier to stay out over the plate. And now they throw that cutter to keep you honest.” But Turner was pretty good against lefties last year, he wanted to point out. It’s probably just a sample size thing.

His mechanical and philosophical changes were more important to his improved play. “I’m open minded to hitting, I love hitting and I love hearing philosophies about hitting, what people are thinking about,” said Turner about his approach to his craft. “That was one of the first times I had heard ‘don’t stay back, and get on your front side, get off your back side, try to catch the ball out front.” This new philosophy seems to be working for him.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Tymathee
Guest
1 year 10 days ago

Great read! I’ve been looking for a reason to believe that Justin Turner won’t regress and this gives me hope, maybe he can be a full time guy after all.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
1 year 10 days ago

Unfortunately for him, if he has developed into a player capable of playing full time, he’s on the absolute worst team to do it.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
1 year 10 days ago

“Consider: since the beginning of 2014, only two hitters in all of baseball have been better than Turner, pound for pound.”

Hmm… I’d love to see a leaderboard of WAR/lbs.

For 2014, maybe… Trout, McCutchen, Altuve?

JRG
Guest
JRG
1 year 10 days ago

pound for pound WAR? dee gordon has to be up there.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
1 year 10 days ago

Went ahead and punched it up.

Here’s your 2014 Top Ten in terms of WAR/100Lbs:

1. Andrew McCutchen – 3.57
2. Mike Trout – 3.47
3. Anthony Rendon – 3.25
4. Jonathan Lucroy – 3.17
5. Michael Brantley – 3.15
6. Jose Bautista – 3.02
7. Alex Gordon – 3.00
8. Josh Donaldson – 2.95
9. Jose Altuve – 2.80
10. Ben Zobrist – 2.66

So, pretty close to the WAR list, as you’d imagine; most players are between 205 and 230. Altuve, though, jumps up from 28th overall to 9th, what with his 175 lbs and all. Stanton (240) dropped out of the top 10, and Jose Abreu (255) finished worst among the Top 30 on the WAR leaderboard.

attgig
Member
attgig
1 year 10 days ago

crazy that the mets just let him go because they thought he wasn’t working hard enough. working on hitting 5 days a week with Byrd…..is maybe showing a little effort? #thanksAlderson

Rob k
Guest
1 year 10 days ago

I’m a Mets fan and generally a fan of Sandy’s front office, but this made no sense to me. They non-tendered an inexpensive utility player the fans liked and trashed him in the press in the way out of town. Had no inkling he’d have this much success with LA, but how they ditched him seemed needlessly mean.

Jake
Guest
Jake
1 year 9 days ago

This just isn’t accurate… Turner had a long history of a guy who could get a hit every once in a while and provide passable defense all across the infield. There wasn’t any reason for the Mets to expect this from him and there wasn’t any reason to expect him to have value once Tejada got relegated to the backup MI role

EC65
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EC65
1 year 10 days ago

Great article! I have been wondering what adjustments Turner had made from the Mets to the Dodgers.

FeslenR
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FeslenR
1 year 10 days ago

Adjustments Turner made: He left the Mets…;)

All joking aside, I think it’s great pie man is doing well, but I don’t know if it will last a full season. Of course, things worked out well for Casey McGhee, perhaps Turner can turn into a McGhee type before he’s swatted aside by Corey Seager.

Jimbo
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Jimbo
1 year 10 days ago

The prototypical Charlie Lau style of hitting had guys on the front foot and making aggressive move back toward the pitcher, not so much about focusing on hitting the ball out in front of the plate. Turner’s comments are surprising from that aspect, watching the games it seems that most hitters try to hit the ball out in front of the plate which is a factor in why we see so many weak swings.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
1 year 10 days ago

I wonder if the Dodgers had any inkling of this when they grabbed him. I’m leaning toward no. Considering he was basically free, it’s not like they had to justify acquiring him by identifying some breakout potential.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
1 year 10 days ago

I’m curious about this because I’ve been wondering how much to credit the new front office with building this ridiculously deep team. Some of it they acquired, like Grandal and Hernandez, but a lot of it seems like it’s not their doing. Scott Van Slyke has been in the organization forever, and in fact got DFA’d at one point. Turner also was acquired by the previous regime, and is probably better than anyone could have expected.

MLB Rainmaker
Member
Member
MLB Rainmaker
1 year 10 days ago

As usual phenomenal stuff.

I so badly want to send this to every hitting coach I had and tell them to eat it. Honestly though, the dogmatic approach to hitting instruction is really corrosive to youth development — there are best practices to hitting, but there isn’t one universal swing.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
1 year 10 days ago

Unfortunately, I imagine there is no real qualifications for being a hitting coach. Coaches probably teach what worked for them, or what they were told when they were a player. The relationship between coaching and results on the field is so murky, it’s almost impossible to really do quality control. Lacking this, they probably have to fall back on conventional wisdom.

Todd Greeson
Guest
Todd Greeson
8 months 11 days ago

i work with a couple kids that are under the age of ten. I played college ball (D3, nothing special) but Bip is right in that I’m just teaching what ive been taught. I’d also like to point out most 8/9/10 year olds aren’t over 80-90 pounds so hips and hands come into play. Getting out on front foot equals weak pop-ups and GB’s to the pitcher. Big difference between a scrawny 75 pound kid and a well developed 230 pound professional athlete

Joe
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Joe
1 year 10 days ago

Eno love everything you write think most of it is right on!! Obviously no ones perfect lol…. But I was wondering if you coould check something would ted williams of hit .400 without segregation? is there a way to cross reference all the data to say it wouldn’t have happened in a more open society if race wasn’t an issue and you take the future into the past???

Dr. Obvious
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Dr. Obvious
1 year 10 days ago

Ted Williams would have hit .400 multiple times if it wasn’t for WWII…. With or without segregation

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
1 year 5 days ago

Williams played until 1960. In 1957 he batted .388. Among the top 25 in starter WAR that year were Connie Johnson, Sam Jones, Mike Garcia and Camilo Pascual. The latter 2 were latino, but no so fair-skinned as say, Dolph Luque, from an earlier era. Or as fair-skinned as Williams himself, who was part Mexican on his mother’s side.

Williams didn’t have to bat against Sam Jones, who was in the NL. There are more pitchers of color now, but mostly latinos, with this year’s top 25 in WAR having only 1 african american, Chris Archer. Cueto, Pineda may not have been able to pitch pre-1947. Carlos Carrasco perhaps. Jesse Flores was pitching before 1947. He was from mexico but european descent. May have had some mestizo. In 1941 though, all you had was Lefty Gomez, and he was spanish-Portuguese.

Certainly by the 1950s they all could have pitched.

Williams hit .406 in 1941, when there were only 16 teams in the majors. The talent pool of pitchers was smaller. They didn’t throw as hard as today in general, probably, but that would include the Kershaws and Scherzers too. I doubt the racial barrier had much to do with Williams hitting .406. Oh, he also hit .407, but in only 37 games, in 1953. Korean War, don’t ya know. Like Dr. Obvious says, he also missed time for WWII. Oh, and is in the sport-fishing hall of fame too. One of the Great fighter pilots, hitters (maybe the best) and fishers of all time. Not sure what to make of the last one but it’s a skill.

I mean, the guy hit .316 at age 42 in 1960.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
1 year 5 days ago

BTW, of course this doesn’t address fielding. Williams didn’t have Andrelton Simmons fielding his grounders. Of course, Williams was too busy ignoring shifts and just pulling liners and flies to left his whole career so Simmons et al might not have made much difference.

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