Dodger hearts broke when third baseman Justin Turner was hit by a pitch on the wrist during a spring training game on March 19 and broke it. ‘Red Turn,’ as he’s been called, has been the heart and soul of the Dodgers over the last few years, starting when he finally became a full-time starter in 2014. He’s been a true team leader both on and off the field, and last year, established him, next to Corey Seager, as the team’s best hitter.
Luckily, he did not need surgery, and the earliest he was expected to come back was sometime during the mid-to-end of May. And his absence to start the season was felt. The Dodgers struggled to open the season, going 16-24 without him, showing his all-around value. He’s a grinder, an actual Hollywood story, who went from cast-off to a legitimate star in Los Angeles.
His journey and humility is one reason why guys listened and took after him. He played hard and smart, ground each at-bat, and never gave up. Turner always worked the count, took walks, and hardly struck out. This was what the Dodgers’ players weren’t doing in the first 40 games of the season. Turner led vocally and by example.
So when he finally returned May 15, everyone thought it was a boost the Dodgers sorely need, and it turned out to be true. The season changed on May 17, where they’ve gone 47-27 since. The perfect example of his value came on June 3rd, in Colorado. It was the top of the 9th, a tie game, with runners on first and third, with one out.
This is a situation the team struggled in, not even being able to trade an out for a run. But Turner took a nine-pitch at-bat and got the productive out, by driving in a run on a groundout. The Dodgers tend to not do this, instead, love to swing for the fences or strike out, particularly in these types of situations.
He’s returned, but his numbers are not what we have grown accustomed to over the years. He’s hitting just .263/.364/.413 with six home runs in 209 plate appearances. His 111 OPS+ is still quality and something most players would take, but it’s a letdown for him because from 2014 (first season as a Dodger) to the end of 2017, Turner hit .303/.379/.503 with 71 home runs, an excellent .377 wOBA, and 141 wRC+ in 1,922 plate appearances. The only good thing about his 2018 numbers is he’s walking 11.5% of the time.
The biggest thing to worry about is the power numbers, which he’s lacking in. David Vassegh, who covers the Dodgers, said during one of his radio shows that he talked with some former players who believe that we shouldn’t expect the same Justin Turner, at least in terms of his power, this year because of the wrist. Turner uses his wrist a lot for his power and this season it won’t be fully recovered.
And he has not been fully healthy this season. Turner’s missed 20 games since return due to soreness in the wrist or another DL trip because of a groin. He’s been hampered since coming back, begging the question whether he was rushed back. But this just shows that even with him struggling, just his presence in the lineup has turned the Dodgers’ offense into one of the best (regarding runs scored) since May 15.
The health may eventually come back over the course of the year, and we might get a fully healthy Justin Turner, but it’s hard to do so when you are continuously playing. But it’s also hard to sit him when he is starting to pick up steam, slowly, but surely. In 25 games since June 23rd, the third baseman has hit .282/.398/.474 with four home runs and 12 walks to just 12 strikeouts.
And over the past week, Justin Turner is hitting .294/.429/.588 in 20 plate appearances. The 33-year-old is seeing the ball better, and getting back his great plate vision. Not to mention, the Dodgers’ star is starting to hit for power and homers. His power numbers are starting to trend upwards, which is a good step forward.
Since June 23rd (93 plate appearances), Turner has a .382 wOBA and 144 wRC+, which is more like it. According to FanGraphs, only 12.5% of batted balls are considered ‘soft,’ while 48.4% are considered ‘hard.’ And he’s combined this with a 46.9% flyball rate while just 26.6% of balls in play are groundballs.
He is the Dodgers’ three-hole hitter, so his value is tremendous. When’s Justin Turner is right, the Dodgers offense is at its peak. He is entrenched into the third spot, and ask anyone in the National League- he’s the last guy that opponents want to face on the Dodgers in a crucial time. That is the JT we all know and love, and he is starting to come back.
Featured Image via Flickr/apradavila