When the Dodgers traded Juan Uribe on May 27, long-time super utility player Justin Turner finally became a full-time starter. In the months since, Turner’s performance earned him praise, including from Dave Cameron on JABO, but it didn’t quite click for me just how good Turner had been until I looked at his offensive numbers from the past two seasons. Among hitters with at least 500 plate appearances since 2014, Turner has the 11th-best wRC+ (148), just behind Anthony Rizzo and ahead of players including Nelson Cruz, Jose Abreu, Michael Brantley, and the likely first selected fantasy third baseman in 2016 drafts, Josh Donaldson.
There are plenty of reasons to remain skeptical that Turner’s recent production accurately reflects his true talent level. For one, Turner’s first work as a full-time player came as a 30-year-old this season, which explains why his total plate appearances on the previous leaderboard fall well short of everyone except for rookie Kris Bryant. Meanwhile, using the same qualifications, Turner is tied for the 15th-highest BABIP over the last two seasons, and with his moderate power and speed, Turner does not seem like a classic candidate to overachieve in that respect the way players like Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, and Dee Gordon do.
Perhaps the biggest reason Turner is so easy to overlook is his lack of a calling card. If I were going to categorize Turner, I’d call him a contact hitter, but he isn’t Brantley (91.9 percent contact rate). His 84.6 percent contact rate since 2014 is tied for 69th among 302 qualified hitters. Turner walks (8.4 percent, tied for 110th), but he’s not Joey Votto (19.6 percent). He does not strike out a ton (17.0 percent, tied for 114th), but he’s not Nori Aoki (7.9 percent). Turner has moderate power and a bit of speed, but 20-10 is likely a best-case scenario. He may not have an A skill in his arsenal, but pretty much every skill he has is a B. That combined with his presence in the productive Dodgers lineup makes him a solid fantasy option. If you prorate everyone’s standard roto numbers from the past two seasons to 600 plate appearances, Turner looks like a top-30 fantasy player.
Even as a clear starter for the Dodgers in 2016, it’s not quite fair to pencil Turner in as a 600-plate appearance player. Throughout the 2015 season, the team managed Turner’s playing time because of leg issues, and his recent knee surgery included a microfracture procedure that will have him rehabbing through the bulk of the offseason. Still, Turner expects to be fully healthy for the start of Spring Training, and the risk is counterbalanced by the upside Turner demonstrated over 750 plate appearances the last two seasons. Even if Turner sees his batting average regress to .270-.280, he should produce similar numbers to Kyle Seager and could be available as many as 100 picks later in drafts.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt