Trea Turner: “People tell me [to hit the ball on the ground]. And I’m like, ‘Shut up.’”
Nationals outfielder Trea Turner, formerly the Padres’ first-round pick in the 2014 draft, has bolted out to a .537 slugging percentage in 224 plate appearances since a mid-season call-up. But what has impressed both fans and teammates more than his power has been his speed. As Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post reported earlier this week, Statcast measured Turner at 22.7 both from home to first on an infield single and from home to third on a triple.
Turner’s baseball coach from North Carolina State, Elliott Avent, texts Turner every time he hits a home run urging him to bunt for a hit more often. Consultants advise Turner to hit the ball on the ground more. Turner says, “People tell me that. And I’m like, ‘Shut up.’”
Turner is already at 2.4 WAR this season, according to FanGraphs, over a full season, that projects to a nearly seven-win season which would put him in the MVP conversation with the likes of Kris Bryant and Corey Seager. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify on leaderboards, his .537 slugging percentage would put him in the top-20 in baseball. And his .192 isolated power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average, is more than 40 points better than the major league average for center fielders.
Plus, it isn’t as if Turner hasn’t been using his speed at all. He has 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts for an exquisite 87.5 percent success rate. His stolen base total prorates to over 60 over a full season’s worth of plate appearances. According to Baseball Reference, Turner has taken the extra base -- first to third, first to home, second to home, etc. -- 53 percent of the time, well above the 40 percent league average. Turner has even stolen third base three times, more than the Cardinals as a team (two) and nearly as many as the Dodgers (four).
Some people seem to fetishize non-power baseball as if it’s somehow superior. But the facts are clearly in: power baseball rules. It’s the most efficient way to score runs. Not only does a home run score as many base runners as there are on base, it requires only one event to do so whereas a team would need to string together three singles on average -- or a single, a stolen base, and another single -- to score one run.
Using weighted on-base average, a Sabermetric statistic that individually weights each way a player contributes offensively, we can clearly see how much more valuable a home run is than a single. Using FanGraphs’ “Guts” page, we see that in 2016, a single is weighted .878 while a home run is weighted 2.009. If Turner were to focus on hitting balls on the ground more, he would have to hit more than two times as many singles for every one home run he loses in doing so. To be clear, that’s on top of his current rate. And to be fair, it’s not quite that cut and dry, because singles can lead to more stolen base opportunities, but Turner would still have to ramp up his attempt rate by a lot. Stolen bases are weighted at .200 by wOBA.
In short, Turner’s doing it right, and he’s right to tell those attempting to get him to change his game to shut up.