Washington Nationals waiting for Trea Turner resurgence


Trea Turner has had a bumpy sophomore campaign, but with Bryce Harper out, the Washington Nationals need him now more than ever.

Even with Bryce Harper sidelined, the Washington Nationals have a dangerous lineup filled with diverse skillsets. Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon are contact-oriented players with middle of the order pop.

Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth have extra-base power even as they battle Father Time. Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo, and Adam Lind are capable bats who fill the gaps in utility roles, and Michael Taylor is a home run threat at the bottom of the lineup.

But, Trea Turner is the one player who really puts the Nationals over the top. Even with Harper in the fold, Turner may be the most dynamic player on the roster. Opposing teams must craft a game plan to stop him in ways that they don’t even have to do for MVP-level Rendon.

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Between injuries and minor league stints, Turner has appeared in 176 games over his major league career. In what amounts to just over one full season, he has bopped 21 home runs, nabbed 73 stolen bases, and totaled 5.5 wins above replacement. He is already a difference-maker at just 24 years old.

Unfortunately for Washington, Turner is yet to find the same groove in 2017 that made him one of the game’s most coveted assets last season. Compare these key offensive numbers over the two seasons:

Hard Hit 34.8 %25.5 %

While Turner was unlikely to sustain his .388 BABIP from a year ago, the hard hit percentage is the real culprit for his struggles.

Over a quarter of Turner’s batted balls were line drives in 2016. This year, that line drive rate is down to 15.2 percent, and the 10 percent difference has shifted entirely to ground balls. While keeping the ball on the ground is not an awful idea for someone of Turner’s speed, it does explain his decrease in production.

According to Fangraphs, batters across the league posted a .685 batting average on liners in 2014, compared to just a .239 number on grounders. That data may have changed slightly three years later, but the core principle has not: line drives equal hits, and ground balls turn into outs.

Turner’s issues have not subsided since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 29; the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up has managed just one line drive in his last 34 plate appearances. Yes, that is partially due to rust and small sample size, but it is also a symptom of Turner’s 2017 swing.

But man, when Turner gets going, he is impossible to stop. A line drive single, and he’ll end up on second base one pitch later. A line drive double, he’ll swipe third. And if he knocks a triple, hey, home plate is just another 60 feet away.

Prior to Turner landing on the DL with a broken wrist, he was thisclose to a massive breakthrough. In his seven games before the injury, Turner slashed .464/.571/.500 and raised his season OPS nearly 40 points.

The reason for the hot streak? A line drive rate over 33 percent.

Turner’s 2016 season was not a fluke, despite posting the second-highest BABIP in baseball. When you hit the ball with force that often, good things will happen. The NLDS does not begin until Oct. 6; time is on Turner’s side as he looks to regain his old self.

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A healthy Harper would do wonders for Washington, but until then, the key for the Nationals lies with Turner. With Turner dancing around the base paths like Wile E. Coyote, Murphy, Rendon, and potentially Harper will see less offspeed pitches from increasingly distracted pitchers. Turner does more than set the table. He is the table for this Nationals lineup, especially as each run gains more significance in these short series October matchups.

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.