It Doesn’t Get Much More Exciting Than Trea Turner

I read new baseball stories every day, and I forget most of them the instant I’m finished reading them, but I remember many of the players and anecdotes that taught me something I hadn’t thought about before. One of the stories that’s stuck with me is the tale of Carlos Gomez’s transformation. Gomez has always been fast, and because Gomez has always been fast, he was instructed earlier in his career to try to put the ball on the ground. Gomez, eventually, figured out he’d be better by tapping into his power, instead of trying to be a speed-only player. Fast players commonly end up being trapped. They run well, so that just ends up the focus.

You’re not going to find Trea Turner in a trap. An excerpt from an enjoyable article by Jorge Castillo:

[College coach Elliott] Avent isn’t the only confidant to relay this kind of advice to Turner. If not bunt, at least focus on putting the ball on the ground, the consultants advise. If the Washington Nationals’ rookie sensation can do that, he can leg out a few extra hits, the theory goes. And the more he’s on base, the more he can terrorize defenses with his speed. Turner listens and scoffs.

“People tell me that,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Shut up.’?”

I don’t know what’s actually the most exciting play in baseball, but Trea Turner can do most of them. Big fan of stolen bases? Turner will steal you bases. Prefer a solid stand-up triple? Turner will hit you a triple. Dingers? He’s got dingers. He’ll even make the occasional diving stop in the outfield. Before this year, he wasn’t an outfielder. Everything a position player can do, Turner does. He’s never going to complete a perfect game, but that’s not to be held against him. He’s dripping with tools, and he’s using them to sculpt a big-league career.

Let’s focus on the blend of speed and power. Turner, of course, isn’t the only player in possession of both. But he is one of the newer ones, and, say, here’s a home run from Monday afternoon. That was his sixth this year in the majors, all since August 3. Turner is running an ISO just under .200. By exit velocity on balls hit in the air, Turner compares well to this year’s Bryce Harper, Jay Bruce, and Nolan Arenado. Turner is not a slugger. Yet, Turner can slug. He doesn’t just try to slap pitches on the ground.

And when he gets moving, there might be no one faster. Turner is already 20-for-23 stealing bases. He has as many triples as homers, and he has what would be one of the highest speed scores in baseball history. Speed score might not be perfect, but it reflects what Turner has done, and Statcast loves him, too. Even last year, in a brief cup of coffee, Turner impressed. This year he’s been measured on some incredible triples. When it comes to top observed speed, Turner is in the highest possible tier. There are reasons, see, why the Nationals thought he could move to the outfield in the first place.

So now, let’s plot. We’re going to use imperfect statistics, but I don’t think we have much of a choice. Included below are all players who have batted at least 200 times this year. Isolated power is on the y-axis, with speed score on the x-axis.

turner-power-speed

Turner stands out, with an above-average ISO and the league’s highest speed score. Now, ISO isn’t the same as strength, and speed score isn’t the same as raw footspeed, but I do think this captures Turner’s essence. The closest player in the plot would be Byron Buxton, and Buxton has been a top prospect for years because of his enviable all-around skillset. The difference here is that Buxton, in the majors, has had a strikeout problem. He hasn’t been able to make the most of his tools. Turner’s already off to a hell of a start, as he looks to establish himself as one of the most exciting regular players in the game.

The Nationals shouldn’t yet take too much for granted. Opponents are still learning about Turner, and, with that in mind, here’s his swing map:

turner-swing

Turner loves to swing at inside pitches, and he prefers to lay off the pitches away. That’s pretty normal for any right-handed hitter, but Turner has taken it to the relative extreme.

Righty Hitter Swing Rates
Righty Hitter Inside Swing% Outside Swing% Difference
Trea Turner 63% 35% 27%
Yasmany Tomas 74% 48% 26%
Dustin Pedroia 57% 31% 26%
Hernan Perez 66% 43% 24%
Devon Travis 62% 39% 23%
Melvin Upton Jr. 64% 41% 23%
Gregorio Petit 62% 41% 21%
Phil Gosselin 55% 34% 21%
Cameron Rupp 58% 38% 20%
Chris Owings 62% 43% 19%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

The average difference is 9%. Turner has tripled that. So opponents might increasingly turn to the outer half, and then we’ll just have to see what Turner would do. This isn’t damning. There are quality hitters on that list. Heck, consider the case of Brian Dozier. Everyone knows his plan, and yet, it’s working better now than ever. You just have to look for potential vulnerabilities. Turner hasn’t walked much yet, and he’s shown a reluctance to visit the outer half. It’s conceivable that could be turned against him.

He’s been a whale of a fastball hitter, but his exit velocity has dropped against everything else. There’s a 9.1mph difference between Turner’s fastball EV and non-fastball EV, which is the fifth-biggest such difference out of more than 300. Turner might have some issues staying back or implementing mid-swing adjustments. And to just add this on there, Turner’s opponents have averaged a 114 ERA-. Mike Pelfrey has a 111 ERA-. Turner has faced a relatively soft slate of adversaries, and the pitchers stand to get more challenging. In short, Turner has plenty left to prove. He could probably tell you that himself. He’s not a finished product, and he’s not a sure thing, even despite the early success.

But what is a sure thing is that Turner can run, and also that Turner can hit the ball hard. There aren’t many players with that blend of skills, and Turner has already come through with big-league value. There’s less for him to figure out than there is for Byron Buxton. And though there’s still figuring out left to do, Turner’s going to try to do that as an everyday player on a contender for the World Series. The Nationals thought their center fielder would be Ben Revere. In a way, it kind of is. In still other ways, it very much isn’t.

We hoped you liked reading It Doesn’t Get Much More Exciting Than Trea Turner by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Slappy McSlapperson
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Slappy McSlapperson

I see you on that plot Ryan Schimpf

Bjd1207
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Bjd1207

LOL thanks for saving me the search. Dat ISO tho….

Vil Blekaitis
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Vil Blekaitis

Me too. I saw that almost .350 ISO with the 5 speed score and thought: who in the hell is that?

One thing I don’t get about the article is the Righty Hitter Swing Rates Chart. It says that Yasmany Thomas swings 74% of the time at pitches on the inside of the plate and 48% of pitches on the outside of the plate. The combined numbers equal 122.

There are other batters on the chart whose combined numbers exceed 100 (barely) and that makes some sense to me since there’s going to be a fine line in the middle of the plate between what constitutes an inside vs. an outside pitch. But when you’ve got a number like 122 it suggests a huge fudge factor between what can be described as being an inside or an outside pitch. I wonder how Baseball Savant came up with that number? The heat map above shows that you have 4 blocks anywhere you look, top to bottom, on either side of that imaginary middle line that separates the inner half from the outer half. I guess he’s swung at a lot of pitches that fall right on that imaginary middle line, IDK.

In any event, an informative article. Thank you Jeff Sullivan for another must read piece about one of the most exciting players in baseball right now.

Will H.
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Will H.

Out of 100 pitches that are thrown on the inside of the plate he swings at 74. out of 100 pitches thrown on the outside of the plate he swings at 48.

Vil Blekaitis
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Vil Blekaitis

Thanks for helping me understand that!