It’s fair to say that one of 2014’s most pleasant surprises was Justin Turner, who turned a non-roster invite after being non-tendered by the Mets into an extremely valuable season that ranked among the best bench years in Dodger history.
In September, I tried in vain to explain how Turner had transformed himself from a mediocre bench player into someone having something resembling a star season. I started with this…
So I keep asking myself, well, how is this happening? This first answer is easy: Helllllooooo, BABIP. Turner’s rolling a .397 BABIP out there, which is not only easily the highest of his career, it’s the second-highest of any player with 300 plate appearances. It’s one of the ten highest BABIP seasons this century, which we are now 15 (!) seasons into, because time keeps going on and can’t be stopped. Any discussion of Turner’s success has to start with that, because it’s the one thing that really stands out so clearly. When he’s not as good next season — and he won’t be — this is where you’re going to look. That doesn’t mean that he can’t be great over the remainder of 2014, because you can never pinpoint the date where regression is going to happen, but it does mean that if you’re expecting a repeat in 2015, you’ll be disappointed.
…and then spent a few hundred words trying to find some evidence of a real change, be it stance, plate discipline, batted ball distance, etc. I couldn’t, and when the season ended, Turner’s BABIP had risen to an insane .404, which was basically the highest of any player with at least 300 plate appearances in baseball. It’s the fourth-highest this century. In more than a century of Dodger baseball, and more than 1,000 seasons of more than 300 plate appearances, Turner’s BABIP was the second-highest ever.
Needless to say, that’s not going to hold up. Turner isn’t fast enough to beat out a ton of infield hits to maintain that BABIP, or talented enough to hit the ball so hard all the time to get more hits than almost anyone else, ever. There’s almost no scenario in which Turner is as valuable as he was in 2014, and to expect that he will be is setting yourself up for disappointment.
But we’ve had that conversation before, and I’m not writing this just to reiterate. What I’m interested in today is what’s reasonable to expect, and now that the major projection systems have all out their Dodger numbers, we can take a look.
Unsurprisingly, absolutely no projection system expects Turner to keep that up, though it’s interesting that ZiPS likes him a lot better than the other two. Of course, even a somewhat less-lucky Turner can still be a valuable player. A league-average bat, which is what two of these three systems see, who can offer good defense at two positions and the flexibility to at least handle two more is still a nice bench piece to have, particularly considering the advancing age of this entire infield.
Turner is a guy you want to have. He’s useful. He’s just not going to be a star, not again, not unless you believe that Turner is the guy who reverses the trend of more than 100 years of baseball. As much as I like him, that’s not a bet I’m willing to make.