Matt Marton/USA Today

Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner's Struggles Tough to Explain

Justin Turner's decline has played a big role in the struggles of the Dodger offense. What's causing it?

The Dodger offense is a mess.  Considering the M*A*S*H status of the pitching staff, it’s hard to fault them for their struggles, though with the steadying of Scott Kazmir and Alex Wood (prior to his DL relegation) recently, the Dodgers’ starting pitching has actually been a strength of the team.  The non-Kenley portion of the bullpen has been a high leverage dumpster fire, but ultimately, that’s only conspicuous because the Dodger offense has struggled to score, creating more high leverage situations for the relievers to combust.

The most discouraging aspect of the Dodgers’ struggles has been the fact that most of it has been the result of veterans under performing.  And that brings us to Ginger Jesus, AKA Jerry Hairston’s “Red Dream,” aka Justin Turner.

Turner had established himself over the past two seasons as the Dodgers’ starting third baseman and a solid choice as either their third or fourth hitter in the lineup.  Last season, Turner posted a wRC+ of 141,  a number which stands among the elite hitters in baseball.  He slashed .294/.370/.491.

This season, Turner has fallen well below his projected numbers.  He currently sits at .223/.322/.326 and has a wRC+ of 83.  Zips and the other projections had him regressing a bit, largely due to his somewhat fortuitous .321 BABIP.  However, the projections still had him sitting at a very respectable .273/.347/.419, numbers the Dodgers would take in a heartbeat from Turner right now.

ISO is a stat that calculates a hitter’s extra base hits per at bat.  Turner’s ISO fell from .197 in 2015 to its current .103 so far this season.  For context, that .103 ranks Turner 22nd out of 25th qualified MLB third basemen this year.  Clearly, Turner has lost some serious pop in his bat.  The question is why is this happening?

The first place to look is plate discipline.  Turner’s walk rate is actually up this season, and his strikeout rate is essentially unchanged (16.4% vs. 16.2 in 2015).  So unlike with Yasiel Puig, it’s safe to say that he’s not losing control of the zone and getting himself out by chasing pitcher’s pitches.

The biggest issue with Turner is that his line drive percentage has dropped from 28% in 2015 to 23% in 2016.  Those line drives have most often become fly balls in 2016, and specifically fly balls to the opposite field.  Turner’s pull rate has fallen from 37% to 32% this season and his oppo rate has skyrocketed from 25% to 35%.  Putting it simply, he’s late and he’s getting under the ball.

Turner’s pitch profile confirms the fact that he’s missing pitches he was handling last year. While he is seeing more sliders this year, his fastball rate is essentially the same.  He saw 61.1% FB’s last year, and he’s getting 62% this year.  Pitchers are favoring sliders and throwing him less changeups, but again, the directional profile strongly suggests it’s heaters giving him problems.

In 2015, Turner’s hottest zones for power within the strike zone were middle-in, middle-down, middle-middle, and down-in.  Let’s look at how he slugged in these areas vs. how he’s slugging now:



Location

2015

2016

Middle-Down

.274

.123

Middle-In

.269

.244

Middle-Middle

.229

.116

Down-In

.121

.233



As the table shows, Turner’s really struggled with pitches down the heart of the plate, be they right down Broadway or over the plate at his knees.  Hitters love those spots.  And though he’s improved on pitches down and in, it hasn’t made up for his struggles in the other areas of the strike zone.  So is the trouble pitch frequency?



Location

2015

2016

Middle-Down

6.8%

6.9%

Middle-In

4.6%

5.4%

Middle-Middle

9.2%

8.3%

Down-In

3.4%

3.6%

 

Turner is by and large getting the same pitches to handle that he mashed in 2015.  He gets the same amount of middle-down pitches, but he’s doing virtually nothing with them (.123 SLG) vs. what he did last season (.274).  He’s seen slightly fewer pitches middle-middle, and he’s actually seeing more pitches middle-in, all of which suggest pitchers are challenging him with fastballs, and beating him.

So what conclusions can we draw?  This is where your personal outlook on life really comes into play here.  IF you are a glass half-full type, you have to say that Turner’s getting pitches to hit, and he’s just missing them.  As his sample size increases, it’s very likely he’ll regress up to where he was projected to be.  

If you’re a “glass shattered in my hands and now my hand is bleeding guy,” you’re probably vexed and dismayed by the fact that a guy who has spent most of his time in the heart of the order is failing to handle meatballs served down the heart of the plate.

Going any deeper than that leaves us into speculation.  Is he hurt?  I’ve not heard anything about any lingering injuries, not that I necessarily would.  Despite frequent prayers to Ginger Jesus during games, he rarely answers me directly.

Turner’s mechanics are quite elaborate, and they are triggered with a high leg kick.  Clearly, there is some timing issue happening here, and it’s possible that his swing is a bit out of whack.  Again, that’s something you’d think Turner Ward and Turner Himself would have identified by now, but who knows?

The bottom line is that Turner’s getting hittable pitches, and he’s not hitting them.  This doesn’t distinguish him from many in the Dodger lineup, but considering Grandal catches and has had documented ailments this year, and Puig is such a volatile substance, the Resurrection of Ginger Jesus is still the Dodgers’ best single hope for an improved offense.  At four games back and with a trip to San Francisco looming, sooner would definitely be better for Turner to get things rolling.

 


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