So is Trea Turner Really the #2 Second Baseman?

We knew Trea Turner would be donning a Nationals uniform at some point in 2016, we just didn’t know when. That he didn’t end up debuting this year until early June, was then quickly demoted after appearing in just two games, and then didn’t return to become a full-timer until mid-July was a bit surprising. That’s mostly because no one expected Danny Espinosa to hold the shortstop job for long, but he managed to, as a big June (.452 wOBA) helped keep him afloat. And while fantasy owners had to wait a little longer than we hoped, Turner didn’t disappoint. He was the 12th most valuable second baseman this season, despite recording just 324 plate appearances! That’s literally half a season. Obviously, his half-season performances raises our expectations to epic proportions. But can we legitimately say he should be the 2nd second baseman off the board, or second highest paid second baseman in auctions in 2017? Brad Johnson certainly thinks so.

Let’s begin with a dangerous activity that could potentially lead to overvaluation…extrapolating Turner’s stats over a full season!

Trea Turner 2016 Actual & Extrapolated
2016 Actual 324 13 53 40 33 0.342
2016 Extrapolated – 650 PA 650 26 106 80 66 0.342

WOAH. That’s literally Jose Altuve with an additional 36 stolen bases! My CBS Sports league ranks Mookie Betts as the most valuable player this year, but I’d bet that the extrapolated Turner line is actually more valuable, making a full-season Turner at that pace the best fantasy player. So in that case, ranking him second behind Altuve doesn’t seem so crazy. Of course, we need to figure out how sustainable Turner’s performance is. Do we really think he’s capable of socking 20+ homers or repeating that .340+ batting average?

Let’s begin with the power. After never posting more than a .169 ISO at any minor league stop, or better than a 45 AB/HR ratio, his power surged upon his arrival in Washington, as his ISO jumped to .225 and AB/HR dropped to about 24. His 16.7% HR/FB rate was far higher than I’m sure the most optimistic of optimists imagined his upside was this year. I have yet to develop a new xHR/FB rate equation that utilizes Statcast data, but his fly ball exit velocity of 88.9 mph was barely above the weighted league average of 87.8 mph. He also used the whole field on his fly balls, so we can’t point to an extreme pull tendency to explain the inflated HR/FB rate. So essentially, his power output looks like a fluke, which we all probably assumed to begin with. I’d figure he’s closer to a 10% HR/FB rate level, which puts him at about 15-16 homers for the year. Still positive value in the category, but not nearly as much as the extrapolated total.

Moving on to his batting average, an inflated .388 BABIP was behind the mark that would have finished third in baseball if he qualified for the leaderboard. Alex Chamberlain’s xBABIP equation suggests that although clearly a .388 mark was above his head, he was still well deserving of a hefty mark at .353. He also always posted sky high BABIP marks in the minors so this doesn’t look like a fluke. While I wouldn’t project a repeat, of course, I think the current published Steamer projection at .321 is far too low. So Turner could hit .300 again.

He’s probably not going to steal bases at the same rate as he did this year, but any concern about his OBP falling driven by a decline in BABIP and batting average could be offset by an increased walk rate. While his minor league walk rates have jumped around, they have sat around 10% the majority of the time, but he walked just 4.3% of the time in Washington. That’s odd since his Swing% was barely above the league average. I expect his walk rate to improve next year, offsetting some, if not all, of the BABIP decline, meaning that a stolen base drop won’t be affected too drastically by a dip in OBP.

So let’s say we have a 15-40 player here, while hitting around .300. That’s exactly what Altuve did in 2015 and he was the easy choice as the top second baseman off the board this year. Obviously it’s scary paying such a high price for a player with such a limited track record that only performed for half a season (see: Carlos Correa for a recent example), but Turner’s skill set is more broad based and less prone to a sophomore slump since his value is driven more by his speed. While it’s going to be a while before I have math-based rankings, I would be pretty surprised if Turner did not come out as my projected second most valuable second baseman.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Ryan DC
Ryan DC

The difference being, of course, that Altuve never strikes out and Turner has shown a propensity for whiffs in the past. Obviously if his ISO holds up that’s not a problem, but if his K rate regresses up and ISO regresses down then it would take a big chunk out of his value.