Trea Turner entered this season on the heels of a breakout 2020 campaign. He finished seventh in NL MVP voting and led the majors in hits while flashing signs of power not seen since his rookie year. That power has returned for 2021, on full display Monday night when he launched his 10th home run of the year over the left-field bleachers at Wrigley Field.
That 10th homer came in Turner’s 37th game, making it the quickest he’s ever reached double-digit long balls in a season. The shortstop is on pace for over 40 home runs, more than double his career high of 19. Nationals manager Davey Martinez credits Turner for evolving his approach to make better, more frequent contact in zones where he can do damage.
“He’s not giving away any pitches or any at-bats, which is really, really nice,” Martinez said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “He’s staying consistent, so if he continues to do that, I’ve said this before, I view Trea as a candidate for MVP. He’s that kind of player. He’s doing well and he’s given us every opportunity to win a game so having him leadoff, playing shortstop the way he’s been playing, it’s been awesome.”
Heading into play Tuesday, Turner ranks second among NL players in hits (49), third in batting average (.329), tied for third in home runs and stolen bases (7) and sixth in OPS (.957). FanGraphs pegs him as the Senior Circuit’s most valuable player at 2.1 WAR. Turner has also improved his defense, grading out as an above-average shortstop by Defensive Runs Saved (3) and Ultimate Zone Rating (0.7).
Martinez has seen Turner develop since he became the Washington skipper in 2018. That year, Turner played all 162 games and led the NL with 43 stolen bases. However, he also had a career-low .760 OPS and took a step back in the power department. (It took him 86 games to hit his 10th homer that season.) For Martinez, Turner’s transformation into the hitter he’s become today is a result of his maturity.
“He understands who he is and what player he is and he’s starting to understand the strike zone,” Martinez said. “He’s starting to understand a lot more what walls that he can hit and hit hard and far. That comes with maturity. I’ve said this before, every year since I’ve been here, he’s matured a lot every year, every single year.”
Though Turner is still among the best base stealers in the game — he’s a perfect 7-for-7 this season and boasts the fastest sprint speed in baseball at 30.8 feet per second — the 27-year-old hasn’t run as often as he has in previous seasons. Turner has attempted to steal in 13% of situations where he’s on first or second with an open base in front of him this year, down from his career average of 19.7%.
Tasked with hitting in front of the Nationals’ other most dangerous hitter in Juan Soto, Turner has held himself back to avoid taking pitches away from the young right fielder.
“I think a lot has to do with who’s hitting behind him and that’s Soto,” Martinez said. “But he picks spots. He knows he has the green light to go. It’s only a handful of times where I don’t want him to go because we want Soto to hit. But I always tell him, ‘Early in the game, they’re gonna do what they do to Juan no matter what, so if you’ve got an opportunity to steal a base and you feel like you can make it, go ahead and go.’”