JABO: Justin Turner Has Earned a Starting Job

Over the past 365 days, Paul Goldschmidt has been the best hitter in baseball, posting a .331/.458/.610 line that is good for an absurd 184 wRC+. Do you know who the second best hitter has been over the past year? It’s not Bryce Harper: He’s third, at 167. And Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are tied for fifth, each putting up a 161 wRC+ during that span. So who’s the mystery man who has put his name among this elite group of hitters?

Dodgers infielder Justin Turner. Yes, the same Justin Turner who began the year as LA’s second-string utility guy, as he wasn’t even the team’s top infield reserve. Despite a very strong 2014 season of part-time work, the Dodgers glut of infield talent put Turner behind not only the starting trio of Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Juan Uribe, but also saw him slide in behind Alex Guerrero for playing time at third base. Turner didn’t get his first start of 2015 until April 22, the Dodgers 14th game of the year.

But just as he did a year ago — when he’s been placed in the line-up — Turner has done nothing but hit. In fact, while his 157 wRC+ a year ago looked like a total fluke — given that he’d put up marks of 96, 98 and 99 the the three years prior — he’s actually hitting even better this season, cutting his strikeout rate while also hitting the ball in the air more frequently and with more authority, leading to a 169 wRC+ in the first few months of 2015.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Turner’s breakout, of course. He didn’t have his first above-average hitting season as a big leaguer until last year — when he was 29 — and even dating back to the beginning of 2014, Turner has only hit 503 times, less than most players get in a full season. Most of Turner’s track record suggests that he’s not really a great hitter, but a guy with good contact skills and some power who is on the hot streak to end all hot streaks. It’s also somewhat telling that the Dodgers watched him destroy opposing pitchers last year, but still weren’t interested in expanding his role for 2015, then also went out and spent $63 million to sign infielder Hector Olivera this spring.

But while there are plenty of reasons to not believe in Turner’s breakout, it’s not like this career arc is entirely without precedent. For some historical context, here are five recent hitters who were, like Turner, essentially useless at the big league level through age-28, then turned into quality big leaguers later in their career.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

We hoped you liked reading JABO: Justin Turner Has Earned a Starting Job by Dave Cameron!

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