Fantasy Baseball: Is Trea Turner Worth a Second-Round Pick?
Trea Turner's rookie season took off with a breakout second half in 2016. It's not surprising to now see his place in early fantasy baseball rankings for 2017 among experts become one of the industry's most divisive topics.
There is what can only be described as a marked non-consensus on how to value the Washington Nationals' speedster as he prepares for his first full season in the big leagues. As of this writing, the FantasyPros Consensus Rankings slot him as a mid-second rounder in standard leagues, but what’s notable here is the range in the individual ranks.
The standard deviation in the ranks is over seven, roughly double the average for early rounders. The only ones who eclipse Turner's range at the top of draft boards are the perennially divisive Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, both players over 10 years Turner’s senior.
Turner is perhaps the prototypical phenom -- he was rushed through the minors, finding success despite being notably younger. Apparent phenoms can be tough to evaluate and our judgment can be clouded by their tantalizing upside and youth appeal, but let's try to cut through that by looking deeper at his numbers.
All That Upside
Of course, Turner’s white-hot upside was on full display during his first extended taste with the Nationals. His 324 plate appearances in 2016 yielded a .342 batting average and .937 OPS, along with 53 runs scored, 40 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Those thefts tied for seventh-best in baseball in less than a half-season's worth of plate appearances. It's admittedly hard to restrain oneself from seeing those 2016 numbers and think he has potential to swipe 50 bags and score over 100 runs in 2017 while hitting at the top of a solid lineup.
This, at any rate, is the case for Turner as a second-round pick or better: he’s Billy Hamilton with a surer stick, a category winner in Take all those numbers with possible 20-homer potential (after all, Turner swatted 13 long balls in '16) and perhaps grabbing the youngster late in the second round is conservative.
The Underlying Risk
Of course, simply doubling Turner's output from last season would be unwise. Many of his underlying numbers indicate a second-round investment could be risky.
His .225 Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO) was on the same level as the season-long marks of Joey Votto (.225) and a resurgent Mike Napoli (.226). However, that doesn't fall in line with Turner's recent history in the minor leagues -- before getting called up in 2016, he posted a .169 ISO in Triple-A.
So, it's hard to argue with his current Steamer Projection, which has Washington's shortstop regressing back to a .158 ISO this season.
For one thing, Turner’s 2016 power binge seems like a mirage: While his batted-ball profile (17.2% soft contact, 48% medium, 34.8% hard) falls in line with Fangraphs' paradigm for an above average hitter, he still has some work to do judging from his plate discipline numbers:
|Trea Turner in '16||4.3%||18.2%||32.6%||59.2%|
He had an encouraging rookie campaign, but improvement is needed for him to have sustained success.
An Unwise Gamble on the Best-Case Scenario
There are no alarm sirens here, but this tells us Turner is by no means a clear lock to repeat or even approach his 2016 pace.
Penciling him in for 15-plus home runs across a full season's worth of plate appearances is risky, as does expecting him to repeat that gaudy .342 average. A more sensible expectation rests somewhere in the .290-.310 range. That also means we're looking at fewer run-scoring opportunities, unless his walk rate increases drastically.
The volatility of the steals market could be a major factor in expert ambivalence toward Turner (check out Jonathan Villar's 20-plus standard deviation on FantasyPros). If stolen bases are the main thing you're paying for, there are other options that can be had much later on, including Villar (FantasyPros consensus rank of 42.4), Gregory Polanco (58.4), Jean Segura (71.4), Dee Gordon (80.3) and Billy Hamilton (85.5).
Turner does seem more stable and less likely to hurt you in certain categories than those players, and he could be a true category winner given his potential on the bases. However, the odds of him posting massive totals there while sustaining his power surge and overcoming plate discipline issues are too much to warrant such a steep investment.
Using a second-round pick or better on him seems like a gamble on the slim, best-case scenario of his range of outcomes. Is that the kind of gamble that wins fantasy baseball leagues? Maybe, but it's more likely the kind of gamble that puts owners behind the proverbial eight ball.