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.
[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 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 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||Inside Swing%||Outside Swing%||Difference|
|Melvin Upton Jr.||64%||41%||23%|
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.
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.