Four shortstops went on the market this past off season. Trea Turner was the pick of the litter.
In 2022, Turner won a Sliver Slugger Award and was an All-Star. He led the National League in stolen bases in 2018 and 2021.
When the Phillies signed him to an eleven year, $300 million contract, most fans were elated at the prospect of upgrading an already intimidating lineup.
Then came the 2023 World Baseball Classic. With five home runs - a record for the Classic - which included an eighth inning go-ahead grand slam on March 18th against Venezuela, the excitement among Phillies’ fans neared ecstasy. We were getting a genuine superstar.
And then the regular season started and the promise of Turner leading a season-long offensive explosion fizzled. Echoing Castellano’s first year in pinstripes, Trea Turner didn’t appear comfortable at the plate or in the field.
2023 stats: 155 G, 691 PA, 26 HR, 76 RBI, 30 SB, .266/.320/.459, fWAR 3.8
On the surface, his slash line appears pretty mid. But when you compare his first half performance to the back half, the shift in level of play is dramatic.
Thru June 30: .249/.304/.384, OPS .688, 8HR, 29 RBI
July 1st - Sept 30: .284/.337/.539, OPS .877, 18 HR, 47 RBI
Postseason: .347/.400/.633, 3 HR, 5 RBI
It will be surprising if someday there isn’t a children’s Little Golden Book about the baseball player who struggled all season until, at his lowest moment, the crowd in Philadelphia took to their feet and cheered him on and imbued him with the magic of Brotherly Love. And like Popeye chugging a can of spinach, from then on Trea Turner hit nothing but grand slams and led the team to ten consecutive World Series victories (you have to expect some amount of literary license).
The reality of it is that after months of struggling Turner found his comfort zone and performed like the Trea of olden times (you know, way back in the days of the World Baseball Classic.
There’s a reason he was named an All-Star twice, won a Sliver Slugger, was NL batting champion, and was picked for the World Baseball Classic team. He’s one of a handful of generational talents. While his tenure with the Phillies started in a slump that at times felt never-ending, his work ethic led him to the batting cages after tough games and he worked like hell to find his mojo again. And find it he did.
In Miami just before the team returned to Philly for The Ovation, Turner gave a post-game interview where he displayed a rare flash of emotion, voicing frustration with his own performance. His dedication to improving and the hard work he put in is why he received The Ovation. It’s why this year he’s again a Silver Slugger finalist even after spending the first half of the season in a hole. It’s why this team will return to the postseason next year.
His mom booed him.
Turner finished the season with more errors than any other shortstop in the majors. He doesn’t have the best range. Gauging by the indisputable eye test, most of those errors were committed while attempting to field mundane balls.
While he wasn’t batting anywhere close to the Mendoza Line, his first half numbers were nowhere near what’s expected from a player of his caliber (and salary). The front office didn’t shell out $300 million for a shortstop who hits .250 and struggles to field routine balls. Should we read too much into his first half of the season? Probably not. Lots of players go through slumps and temporarily lose sight of the ball, especially when they change clubhouses. And he turned things around in the second half. Still, since 2016 - his second year in the majors - he hasn’t batted below .270 until this season. In fact he’s only batted below .280 once before this, in 2018. While batting average doesn’t tell a complete story for any hitter, directionally it paints an accurate shorthand picture of Turner’s production in the batter’s box throughout his career.
And of course there’s his role in the last few games of the NLCS. He pressed. He chased. Instead of smart and measured at-bats, he swung for the fences regardless of how far the ball was out of reach. Over 29 plate appearances he produced 5 hits. Compare how he hit in the NLWC (.571) and NLDS (.471) to how he performed at the plate in the NLCS when everything was on the line (.200). Turner is no stranger to playing on a large stage or under pressure, so why did he choke in this series? Of course, Turner’s bat wasn’t the only one that turned cold against Arizona.
Nick Castellanos and Trea Turner on below the zone breaking balls in the NLCS: pic.twitter.com/xBSdRHeG7p— Anthony (@AnthonyEsbensen) November 2, 2023
His contract runs for another ten years, so for better or worse, until a trade deadline in the 2030’s do us part, Philly and Trea are bound together in hacking matrimony. The window on his peak years is slowly closing.
Trea Turner possesses the talent necessary to play a leading role in returning the Phillies to more postseason runs. My bet is that now he’s settled in and is familiar with the clubhouse and the energy here, there’s a better chance than not his performance will return to a level closer to previous years. If it doesn’t then the Phillies spent a lot of money on expired milk they can’t throw away.