Fantasy Baseball

What’s Love Got To Do With It – The Trea Turner Story

Sometimes, I believe that I am not stern or strong enough in my opinions.  I get frustrated that I have conditioned myself to not get too high or low on a player.  As a result, I can appreciate and respect the hot-takes on Trea Turner that are out there early in the process.  However, I can also disagree with those hot-takes.  Trea Turner is not a first round pick and if you’re taking Turner in one of the top two rounds, you are asking for trouble.

Wow, there is a hot take.  A hot take that does not feel like a hot take.  Exclaiming that a player with a little more than 300 at-bats and coming off a year with a 4% walk rate is not a top 25 player does not feel like the boldest proclamation.  Yet, I feel like I am alone on an island at this early stage in the game.

Before I tell you why I believe those placing Turner in the first (or second) round are off-base, let me acknowledge how phenomenal he was during his 72 game run with the Nats.  He posted 15 homers, 33 steals and a .342 batting average.  As you my educated reader undoubtedly know, that is very impressive.  

Turner also has what seems to be a secure role on a great team.  He will hit in front of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon among others.  There is no disputing that unless Turner completely bottoms out that he will be an asset especially  given the lack of stolen bases available to fantasy owners.

So what do I believe these other fantasy writers and experts – some admittedly much smarter than me – might be missing that I have found?

Well, I do not think it is so much anything that I have found.  I think it’s simply falling in love with the concept of Turner.  It is easy to remember what Turner did last year visually, see eye-popping crooked numbers, recall his prospect pedigree, realize that even with regression that Turner would have been stellar, and anticipate that he will be able to replicate a significant percentage of what he did.  Plus, Turner has not failed.  The only sample of any significance that we have – he out and out dominated the league.

When I look at Turner’s season, there are a couple of red flags that jump out to me.  Some of them are obvious right on the face of his numbers.  His .388 BABIP was insanely high even for a player with plus speed.  He did not draw many walks with a 4.3% BB rate.  Turner has no track record for the type of power that he displayed in last year’s sample – he never came particularly close to even a .200 ISO, nevermind last year’s .225.  

Then, I dig a little deeper.  Turner often is discussed in the same breath as Jonathan Villar, who is considered a similar, albeit lesser option compared to Turner.  Villar is often criticized for his strikeout and contact issues.  Owners also tend to be skeptical because we have seen Villar fail.  I look at it a different way…  We have seen Villar adjust.  We have not seen that from Turner because the league did not find the weakness(es) in his game, yet.

If you look at them side-by-side, they really are quite similar.  They both sport a 10.6% Swing Strike rate.  Additionally, Villar and Turner are within 1 percentage point of each other the amount they swing inside the strike zone (Villar 64.4%; Turner 63.7%) and the amount of contact they make outside the zone (Villar 56.5%; Turner 55.7%).  Turner made a bit more contact overall (77.5%) compared to Villar (75.2%).

Of course, I would be remiss to not mention that Turner made contact on 88.1% of the pitches that he swung at inside the zone, while Villar sat at just 82.3%, which helps explain the difference in strikeout percentage (Villar 25.6%, Turner 18.2%).  I do not think Turner will be able to maintain that edge because Turner swung at 31.1% pitches outside the zone while Villar swung at just 23.2% of those pitches.  Of course, pitches outside the zone are often more difficult to hit.  Further, they will often lead to less desirable contact from a player.  

Last season’s numbers indicate an expected strikeout rate for Turner of over 21%.  This would regress Tuner’s batting average a bit.  Some bad contact and natural regression would cut into his BABIP and suddenly his .340 average starts to tick downward.  

I think Turner’s penchant for swinging out of the zone and his below average rate of contact on those pitches will result in pitchers’ challenging Turner’s discipline and patience with breaking balls out of the zone.  If pitchers take that approach and Turner is unable to rediscover his patience from the minors, then Turner’s K-rate could rise even further.  

The power is not only absent from Turner’s track record, but his batted ball data and profile evince that Turner was lucky in the power department.  His flyball velocity was just barely above league average and while his all-fields approach is good for average, it does not help in the power department since more pulled flyballs might explain some of the power outbreak.  

So we have negative indicators in multiple areas – power regression based on track record and batted ball profile, more strikeouts based on plate discipline and contact, a lower average on Balls In Play because of regression to the mean and bad swings generating poor contact, and a lower rate of steals because he is on-base less often.

My Projection for Trea Turner: .270/.310/.445, 95R, 8 HR, 57 RBI 36 SB

That statline would put Turner somewhere between the 70th and 100th player overall.  The speed does give him a very safe floor.

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