Nationals

Nationals’ Strengths No. 4: Trea Turner’s speed

Nationals

With the return of baseball in question amid the coronavirus outbreak, we’re ranking the Nationals’ 10 biggest strengths that we’re looking forward to watching once play finally does resume. Up next is the speed Trea Turner adds to the top of the lineup.

There’s a case to be made that Trea Turner has one of the best hit/speed tool combos in all of baseball.

Last season, only two players swiped at least 30 bases and posted an on-base percentage over .350: Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Turner. Yelich was runner-up for NL MVP only a year after winning the award himself. Acuña Jr., who finished fifth in last year’s voting, finished three stolen bases short of posting only the fifth 40/40 season in MLB history.

Now, Turner’s hit tool is good, but it’s not exceptional. The Nationals shortstop ranked 52nd in OPS (.850) among qualified hitters last season and he hit the ball on the ground at a concerning 47.2 percent clip. His game is built around speed—and that tool is perhaps the best in the sport.

FanGraphs pegged Turner’s max sprint speed at 30.4 feet per second last season, second highest in baseball behind only Diamondbacks utility outfielder Tim Locastro. His average 90-feet sprint time of 3.74 seconds was also tied for second, this time only bested by Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi.

 

While Turner may not hold the top spot in either category, no one uses it more than him.

Statcast tracks a stat called bolts, which are counted every time a player reaches a max speed of at least 30 feet per second while running. Last season, Turner registered 122 bolts. The next-closest player was Mondesi, who only recorded 68. Turner’s ability to consistently get on base only further unlocks that speed, making him one of the most truly unique players in the majors.

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Speed and stolen bases are not synonymous, but Turner is among the elite in both. Since the start of his rookie season in 2016, only two players have racked up more stolen bases: Billy Hamilton and Jonathan Villar. Yet Turner is more efficient than either of them, putting up an 84.9 stolen base percentage over that span compared to 82.4 and 80 percent for Hamilton and Villar, respectively.

So Turner creates tons of opportunities to run, boasts spring speed matched only by the few, steals bases at one of the highest volumes in the league and manages be efficient when he does it. It’s a combination that makes Turner perhaps the most valuable baserunner in all of baseball.

That’s where the hit tool comes in.

Washington bats Turner leadoff, putting its best baserunner at the top of the order to create RBI opportunities for the big hitters behind him. The idea is that by hitting Turner first with Adam Eaton behind him, the shortstop will be unleashed to steal bases any time he has an opportunity.

“Trea, one of his big assets is his speed,” Martinez told The Washington Post in March. “We want him to get on and cause havoc and get him to steal bases. I’m afraid if we let him hit third, he won’t steal as much just because he wants Juan [Soto] to hit…I want [Turner] to get to second base as much as possible.”

While the set-the-table-and-steal leadoff role is probably the most traditional way a leadoff hitter is used, only eight players started at least 100 games at No. 1 spot and stole more than 10 bases last season.

Among those eight players, Turner ranked third in on-base percentage (.355) and second in steals (31). He also finished third in slugging percentage (.491), showing flashes of some of that sneaky pop he’s displayed over the years.

So even among leadoff hitters, Turner falls among the most dynamic players. When elite speed meshes with above-average hitting, the results are undeniable.

To settle that earlier debate: Acuña Jr. probably has the best hit/speed tool combo in baseball, but Turner isn’t far behind.

But that’s the exception more than the norm: Typically, Turner isn’t behind anybody.

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