Justin Turner playing role of ‘unsung hero’ in Juan Uribe’s absence

turner-2014-04-27I’ve said this before, but I never thought I’d grow to love Juan Uribe. So, when he went on the disabled list May 21 with a hamstring injury (like every Dodger, ever), it looked like a big blow to a team that had grown accustomed to solid offense and elite defense from the third baseman.

Enter Justin Turner, who has filled in admirably since Uribe was disabled. Since that time, Turner has hit .349/.406/.540 with three home runs, three doubles, 12 RBI and 14 runs scored. In the last two weeks, he’s been the seventh-best third baseman in the league. And he’s done most of his damage as a third baseman this season, hitting .360/.411/.523 from the hot corner. We can debate the merits of that statistical split, but as a third baseman, Turner is providing offensive production that tops that of Uribe’s thus far.

Another surprising facet of Turner’s game is the fact he’s playing solid defense in Uribe’s stead. Advanced defensive metrics have him at -0.2 UZR/150 (league-average is 0) and 3 defensive runs saved. Including this year, Turner’s career numbers at third base are not great: -4.5 UZR/150 and just 2 defensive runs saved. These numbers only matter depending on how much stock you put into them, but Turner has been at least an average defender at third base since Uribe went down, which is about all one could expect out of a utility player.

When part-time players play too much, they tend to become ineffective. That’s what happened with Nick Punto last season. He got off to a fast start, as he hit .309/.398/.382 through the season’s first two months. He was the Dodgers’ primary shortstop in Hanley Ramirez‘s absence, and thrived. But that grind, coupled with general lack of skill (but not grit), wore on Punto and his production the next two months. From June 1 to July 30, he hit .162/.202/.192. He was still a valuable bench piece for the 2013 Dodgers, just as Turner is for the 2014 Dodgers.

Manager Don Mattingly has already expressed concern about overusing Turner. From Ken Gurnick at dodgers.com:

“‘He’s had some big hits for us. He’s been solid at third. I think we just have to be careful with him playing too many days in a row. So we’ll be careful with that, but he’s been good.'”

Some might say, “run him into the ground and get the most production out of him,” but being cautious with his playing time is smart. It’s why Chone Figgins has received as many plate appearances as he has this season. The same Chone Figgins who was out of baseball last year and has fringe-average bat speed. And Figgins has been solid in his brief playing time — he has a .361 on-base percentage and has been worth more the same in WAR as Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, and worth more than guys like A.J. Ellis and Matt Kemp. But I digress.

Turner’s 0.8 WAR is seventh-best among hitters on the club. Punto was once third on the 2013 Dodgers in WAR, so the situations are surprisingly parallel.

Uribe can’t get back soon enough, because Turner’s return to a part-time role will improve the bench. In its current state, guys like Jamie Romak and Miguel Rojas are getting playing time in significant moments. But, it’s really nice to see the $1 million flyer the Dodgers’ took on Turner is paying off.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.