Exploring the cause of Justin Turner’s power outage

Justin Turner was one of baseball’s best hitters in his first two seasons with the Dodgers. Going by wRC+, he was in the company of guys like Edwin Encarnacion and Anthony Rizzo, Nelson Cruz and Jose Abreu.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Turner has been — so far — a shell of his former self. He owns a poor .232/.323/.352 triple slash with an 87 wRC+, and the main cause has been Turner’s power all but disappearing, even taking into account his two home runs in San Diego over the weekend.

It’d be easy to point to the microfracture knee surgery Turner had in the offseason — and that may very well be the cause of his power loss — but I want to dig a little deeper.

Some of Turner’s peripherals are pretty similar to last season.

Peripheral 2015 2016
BB% 8.2 9.1
K% 16.2 14.6
Soft% 11.6 12.6
Med% 56.1 58.0
SwStr% 7.2 6.5
Z-Contact% 87.2 88.9
Exit Velo 89.7 90.2
Launch Angle 13.7 15.7

Turner has actually improved in some areas, so it seems like an awful lot is indicating that Turner should still be as productive as he was in 2015. Yet, he hasn’t been.

A deeper look into his numbers so far indicate some red flags in his performance.

Peripheral 2015 2016
Avg. Distance 229.5 219.3
Avg. FB Distance 319.1 296.2
LD% 27.7 20.8
FB% 36.2 41.7
IFFB% 7.8 10.0
Hard% 32.3 29.4
ISO .197 .120

Something that stands out is the average distance of his batted ball. In 2015, it was 229.5 feet (20th in baseball, minimum 250 ABs). In 2016, it’s 219.3 feet (t-55th in baseball, minimum 100 ABs). He’s also hitting more fly balls overall at the expense of fewer line drives instead of ground balls. When the fly ball distance is down and the fly ball percentage is up, that accounts for some of the issues. And while his exit velocity is actually better this season than it was last, his hard-hit percentage is down almost 3 percent. Also, his isolated power (ISO) was .083 before his two homers this weekend.

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So what’s happening? Well, he’s seeing fewer fastballs compared to last season. Turner saw 61.1 percent fastballs last season, but this season, that total is down to 59.4 percent. In his previous two seasons, he has been 10.8 and 10.3 runs above average on the fastball, but this season, he’s -0.9 runs above average against fastballs. Additionally, Turner has an exit velocity of 90.0 MPH on fastballs (4-seam, 2-seam, sinker) this season (48 batted-ball events), while last season it was 91.1 MPH (162 BBE). It all adds up in the end.

On top of that, he’s also struggling mightily against right-handed pitchers.

  • vs. RHP: .206/.287/.299 (122 plate appearances)
  • vs. LHP: .314/.429/.514  (42 plate appearances)

This is after hitting .313/.384/.524 against righties last year, and .349/.413/.477 the year before. That’s the biggest surface-level reason for his dip in production.

There weren’t any warning signs in spring training, either. Despite Turner getting a late start, he lit up the Cactus League (.500/.571/1.000). But that’s beside the point since spring training stats are virtually worthless, but it was the way he looked while posting those numbers. He was making hard contact, he was punishing mistakes and good pitches, and most importantly, he looked healthy doing so.

Turner isn’t the only Dodger struggling to hit, but his struggle has been felt throughout the lineup. Turner had entrenched himself in the No. 3/4 spot in the lineup, but he just hasn’t produced enough to justify hitting that high in the lineup. Perhaps he’ll get going after a couple home runs (his only hits) in Petco Park. If not, he might need to be dropped in the lineup. There isn’t really a viable replacement/platoon partner on the roster or in the minors, so the Dodgers really need Turner to figure things out.

Turner’s a free agent after the season and is in line for his one and only big payday. So far his 2016 isn’t exactly going the way he scripted, but much like Yasiel Puig, at least Turner’s defense hasn’t slumped. Of course, the Dodgers can only have so many “good glove, no hit” guys in the lineup at premium offensive positions … especially ones who were expected to produce at All-Star levels.

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 does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and 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 one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.