2011 Evaluation: Justin Turner
The biggest competition in Port St. Lucie last March was at second base, where Luis Castillo, Dan Murphy, and Brad Emaus auditioned for the starting position. Oh, there was mention of Justin Turner, but the scrappy utilityman was written off fairly early; even the names Luis Hernandez and Chin-lung Hu were ahead of Turner on the depth chart. Mainly because he still held an option, it was a foregone conclusion that Turner would start the season in AAA and be summoned only if some kind of catastrophe occurred at the keystone.
In fact, the Mets were so certain of how things would turn out in the middle of the infield, Emaus was listed as their second baseman on the MLB All-Star ballot.
Funny how the best laid plans of mice and Mets often fall astray …
You know the story: Castillo was given just enough of an opportunity to fail and was subsequently released; Emaus never made the All-Star Game; Hu lasted about as long as an Abbott and Costello routine; Hernandez fizzled within 48 hours; Murphy’s defense was just too shaky, and he shifted over to 1B after Ike Davis‘ injury; and, by the end of June, the catastrophe was complete, with Turner the last man standing.
Personally, I was rooting for and advocating Turner from the start. Though, I also was pulling hard for Emaus, who looked disturbingly overmatched. Hey, Justin Turner is no Jeff Kent, but the Mets could have done much worse – and there are plenty of fans who appreciate what Turner brings to the table.
From a statistical standpoint, Justin Turner does not impress. His .690 OPS is too low, he doesn’t walk enough, and his defensive metrics say he’s below average. If you are one who evaluates baseball players strictly on stats, then you likely found Turner to be an unacceptable solution at second base.
However, here is my view of Turner using "old school" analytics, beginning with defense. His range is average at best, but he rarely ever misplays what he gets to; his ability to turn the double play from both sides of the bag is about average; his arm is above-average in terms of strength and accuracy, he rarely throws to the wrong base, does a good job on relays from the outfield, and knows when NOT to throw the baseball. Offensively, he is an expert bunter and reliable hit-and-run man; goes the other way well; has good idea of the strike zone; is a strong situational hitter; has only slightly above average speed but makes the most of it with good baserunning instincts, hustle, cutting the bases well, and good jumps.
Two things disappointed me from Turner in 2011: his walk total and lack of homerun power. I didn’t expect a .400 OBP and 20 HR, but I did think he’d be in the .350 OBP range with a few more taters than 4. However, he did mash 30 doubles in only 435 at-bats, which is encouraging. Maybe playing home games in a smaller park would have resulted in more homeruns. As for the walks, I wonder if he would have had more had he been called on to bunt and hit and run less often, or if he was in a different position in the lineup, rather than batting second / behind Jose Reyes for the bulk of his starts? In the 103 plate appearances (granted, small sample) when he batted anywhere else, his OPS was well over .700. Hmm …
It seems that the Mets brass would prefer to see Dan Murphy win the second base job, so once again Turner goes into spring training as the backup plan. Personally, I think Turner is still, currently, the Mets’ best option at second – at least until Reese Havens remains healthy enough to get more seasoning and/or Jordany Valdespin grows up.
Turner may or may not be good enough to be an everyday second baseman; I’d be curious to see him play another full year at the position, but further down in the lineup, to see what might happen. I believe his ceiling is somewhere between Mark Loretta and Mark DeRosa, which isn’t too awful. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Turner reminds me a lot of Ty Wigginton‘s first year as a Met — a hard-nosed hustler full of piss and vinegar; though, Wiggy showed more power and less discipline at the plate.
Turner just turned 27, so he is moving into the prime of his career. If it were up to me, Turner would be penciled in as the Mets’ starting second baseman going into spring training; in other words, his job to lose.