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 …

2012 Projection

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.

Your thoughts?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Golfbone December 26, 2011 at 7:12 am
    It has to be Murphy at second if Ike Davis is healthy and they don’t trade Wright. There’s no other place to put Murphy and he has the capability of being a .300 hitter/15 HR power which is something Turner is never going to do.

    You can’t put Murphy in the outfield either…..remember?

    • Joe Janish December 26, 2011 at 9:55 pm
      I’ve seen Murphy hit 15 HR and .300 separately, not together, so I’m not convinced he can do both at the same time. And if he can’t, then he won’t provide enough offense to make up for his horrid defense at 2B.

      Yes I remember how bad he was in LF. What makes you think horrific defense at 2B will be less noticeable?

      So … Mets have an opening at 2B and Murphy doesn’t have a position, therefore, Murphy plays 2B. That’s logical how? Hey, working on that logic, why not put Murphy at shortstop or behind the plate?

  2. 86mets December 26, 2011 at 10:03 am
    I am no stats freak but I would much, MUCH rather have Daniel Murphy at 2B than Turner. My reasoning is simple:

    1. The Mets need offense and they need it badly with Jose Reyes gone and black holes in LF, CF, SS, and C they need a strong bat at 2B to help compensate. Turner is never going to be more than a .260 hitter with limited power. Murphy has proven he can hit .300 with 35+ 2B and should be good for around 15 HR and 65-80 RBI depending on where he hits.

    2. As for the defense, I will allow that Turner is better than Murphy. At this point. However, I feel that Murphy can be carried as the regular 2B based on who is flanking him on the IF: Tejeda at SS and Davis at 1B. Both players have above average range and are capable of covering what ground Murphy may not. With proper instruction and enough work Murphy could become an adequate 2B until Havens is ready.

    Now, those points lead me to this: the Mets should very defintely ship Turner to the Rockies for Eric Young, Jr. if they have the chance. Young can play 2B/OF whereas Turner is primarily a 2B. Young gives you a little more versatility, plus superior speed on the bases.

    • Joe December 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm
      Why would the Rockies trade Eric Young, Jr. to the Mets?
    • Joe December 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm
      I don’t like Murphy at 2nd either, but they want him there for his bat; if not for that, sure, Turner would be the 2nd base option, unless they traded for another infielder. Ideally, he might be best as a back-up. If they had someone else.

      As for last season, he would have made sense from the start, but they had a few other options to try out. He was a steady presence when it was his job but later was likely playing hurt. As to HRs, didn’t really expect anything from him in that department. No one really hit them after all.

      He looked worn down to me toward the end, but generally speaking, he looked like a gamer who was a good addition to the team. Like Murphy, without the few glaring baserunning mistakes, he’s someone a fan can be impressed with and root for. Good clutch hitter too.

    • Joe Janish December 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm
      It’s not necessarily about Murphy’s limited range. It’s more about his poor throwing, terrible footwork, mental lapses, and not knowing what he’s supposed to do when the ball comes toward him. Not to mention, playing 2B has proven to be dangerous to his health (not being funny here, being absolutely serious).
  3. MikeT December 26, 2011 at 10:25 am
    Didn’t Turner have an injury that likely sapped all of his power? I seem to recall those rumors, but I’m not sure it was just that or if there was any truth to it.
  4. hernandezhofer December 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm
    Loretta is a good comp offensively for Turner. The difference is that Loretta was exclusively a SS in the minors, and Turner cannot play the position at all. Its next to impossible to make it as a utility infielder if you can’t play SS. With only five bench players, versatility is the key.

    Turner is either a starter, or at AAA.

    • Joe Janish December 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm
      Turner is better at shortstop than Murphy is at second base.

      I don’t think a utilityman has to be more than mediocre at SS (which Turner is), unless your team has a fragile shortstop who is unlikely to play more than 120 games a year.

  5. jerseymet December 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm
    Turner is a gamer, remeber the hbp against the A’s. He should start at second. Murph just has too many mental lapses. Start Murph at third. Trade Wright.
    • Dan December 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm
      Keeping Wright doesn’t make sense to me, unless the trade market for him would be a giveaway. See what Murphy can do at third.
      • Joe Janish December 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm
        Keeping Wright ensures that the most clueless Mets fans — and that accounts for about 75% of the fan base — will still come out to Citi Field at least once during the season. Note, that part of the fan base does not read any Mets blogs and would not recognize R.A. Dickey.
        • Izzy December 27, 2011 at 8:05 am
          I think you are about that number of 75%. After the ownership and front office decided a winning team could ot compete and dumped Betran and KROD, the stadium was much emptier and quieter. People came because they had already boughttickets from season packages or becaus ethey were so cheap on EBAY that it was an option to see a game outide of /brooklyn or Statn Island. Attendance will never get to zero, but I think 99% of Met fans know by now that the the Wipons suck and keeping Wright won’t change it. It will only add to increaded bad publicity as the brilliant Wilpons will have to open up the papers almost daily to read about when poor David will be traded.
        • HobieLandrith December 27, 2011 at 9:32 am
          I wouldn’t try to figure out how many Mets fans there are based on attendance at Citi Field. If most Mets fans are anything like me — meaning, poor as dirt — they went to games at Shea because tickets were affordable and it wasn’t yet obvious that the owners didn’t give a rat’s ass about us.

          Once Citi Field opened with its fancy restaurants, expensive beers, and high ticket prices, a very large part of the fan base resigned itself to watching the Mets on TV, and gradually lost interest as the team lost games.

          Joe’s right – the majority of Mets fans have only a passing interest in the team. They know whatever makes the headlines — and over the past six months, that means they know the Mets don’t have K-Rod, Beltran, nor Reyes any more. Get rid of Wright and whomever is still paying attention will turn their focus to something else other than the Mets.

  6. argonbunnies December 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm
    Turner gives us a 2B option that I’m pretty confident will not be horrible, and for that I am grateful. On a team that won’t win in 2012, however, I’d prefer to see those innings and ABs going to someone who might play a larger role in our future plans. If that’s not an option, though, I’ll certainly enjoy rooting for Justin.
  7. newmilford December 27, 2011 at 10:10 am
    30 doubles….he would be my incumbent.