Justin Turner bought into the launch angle phenomenon and is getting fantastic results in 2017.
The Los Angeles Dodgers season cannot be going any better. Although many thought they would win the National League West, few thought they would be as dominant as they have been. They hold a 43-13 record at Dodger Stadium, making it nearly impossible for an opposing team to win a series there. Overall, the Dodgers sport a 70-31 record, which is the best in baseball and a major reason why they are a heavy favorite to win the 2017 World Series.
One of the main reasons why the Dodgers have been dominant is due to Justin Turner’s elevation from above-average hitter to likely National League Batting Champion. Justin Turner is the epitome of the Los Angeles Dodgers success this year and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts agrees with this notion.
Turner’s offensive statistics reinforce Roberts’ quote. In 2017, Turner is batting .364/.457/.561 and is first in baseball in batting average and third in OPS, only behind Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper. What is amazing about Turner’s stardom is that it was only a few years ago that he was non-tendered by the New York Mets.
In fact, Justin Turner did not start off his career as one of the most formidable third basemen in the game. In three full seasons with the New York Mets, Turner established himself as a contact hitter with a low walk rate:
An average OPS usually falls around .700 to .766, and Turner’s average OPS over his Mets tenure fell into that range. Turner struggled to get on base during his time with the Mets, which was reflected in his on base percentage. As a result, it had an effect on his OPS. Although his batting average showed that he was an alright hitter, the Mets did not think he was worth investing in, and his lack of interest in being a “looking-to-walk guy” certainly did not help.
This season with the Dodgers, however, Turner’s walk rate is better, sitting at 11.7%, slightly above the league average. This is an improvement over when he played with the Mets and Orioles, as he had a 6.9% walk rate. A closer look into Turner’s increased walk rate reveals that he is seeing fewer pitches outside the strike zone, thanks to his improved hitting abilities. Turner’s zone rate—the amount of pitches thrown to him in the strike zone—decreased from 52.3% during his time with the Mets and Orioles to 42.6% this season with the Dodgers. When a batter is seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone, it suggests that pitchers are throwing balls to Turner carefully, not giving him as many pitches to hit as they did in previous years. However, Turner is not only walking more this year; he is also striking out less:
For the first time in his career, Turner is yielding more walks than strikeouts. Only five other major league players—Mookie Betts, Joey Votto, Anthony Rendon, Anthony Rizzo, and Dustin Pedroia—are doing this in 2017.
The Dodgers’ third baseman has also succeeded at the plate by avoiding the pop up. According to FanGraphs, Turner has had a pop up rate (1%) that is well below the league average. What is good is that his low launch angle has increased each year with the Dodgers and he has decreased his high launch angle, allowing him to maintain a consistent low pop up rate:
This chart is significant because it shows that Turner consistently hits in the sweet spot of launch angles. His consistency of maintaining the same launch angle in his at-bats is one of the reasons why Turner’s production this season has increased significantly. Turner’s generated launch angle has prevented pitchers from getting easy pop outs from him, allowing him to put the ball in play and winding up with more base hits.
Unlike his first few years with the Dodgers, Turner is also doing a much better job at hitting the high strike, and his improvement is evidenced in the heatmap below. As the heatmap below also shows, Turner has seen overall improvement hitting pitches in the strike zone:
In 2017, the Dodgers’ third baseman is able to hit balls above average from all parts of the zone, making it difficult for pitchers to pinpoint a specific weak spot. This is a good sign for Turner in maintaining the level of success he has had this season.
Justin Turner used to be mediocre. He was a guy who could be counted on to make contact but not walk as much. Thanks to adjustments at the plate, he has become a more complete hitter, walking more and making better contact. His success on the field has led him to making his first All-Star appearance in his career as well as putting the Dodgers in the driver’s seat for a long postseason run.
(All data has been retrieved from Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, or FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.)
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