Fantasy Baseball: Justin Turner Is Going Way Too Late in Season-Long Drafts

Turner has transformed himself into a legitimate middle-of-the-order run producer but is still undervalued in fantasy baseball drafts.

The 2016 season is one Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner will never forget.

After posting a .684 OPS through his first 926 big league plate appearances, a trip back home to the west coast led to a complete transformation in his performance at the plate. He proved that between the 2014 and 2015 seasons when his OPS jumped to .876 in 761 plate appearances, but last season is the pinnacle thus far in his pro career.

Despite coming off microfracture surgery in his knee, Turner finished with career highs in homers (27), doubles (34), RBI (90), Isolated Power (.218) and fWAR (5.6). This all came at the perfect time because he was entering the free agent market and cashed in with a four-year, $64 million pact to stay in Los Angeles.

As he's entering his age-32 season, he's a late bloomer at a position that's incredibly deep for fantasy purposes. But still, is his current average draft position, according to NFBC drafts, of 126.26 warranted? That'd make him the 15th third baseman coming off the board, which would be in the middle of the 10th round in 12-team leagues.

As it turns out, a slow start to his 2016 campaign has actually suppressed not only his overall stats but also his season-long draft stock.

A Slow Start

The overall stats show that Turner had a great season, but it's only because he dug himself out of a huge hole following a rough start.

There was some question as to how he'd respond to microfracture surgery, but after posting a 1.571 OPS with just 2 strikeouts in 35 plate appearances in spring training, it wouldn't have been crazy to think things were just fine.

Until the games started to count.

Here's what Turner's first two months looked like, compared to his combined production from 2014-15.

2014-15 761 .314 .384 .492 23 103 101
2016 (April and May) 166 .235 .335 .343 3 16 19

Obviously, there's a huge sample size difference here, and there's a lot more we could dive into outside of the above statistics, but you get the picture -- Turner was just a shell of the hitter we thought he had become.

After posting a wRC+ of 158 in 2014 and following that with a 142 mark in 2015, his wRC+ sat at just 81 when he woke up to play last year on June 1st. But that's when his entire season turned around before signing a life-changing contract.

Finishing With a Flourish

From this point on, Turner was exactly the kind of hitter we thought he was entering 2016, and his wRC+ jumped up to 139. For the sake of consistency, we'll compare his 2014-15 numbers from above to his final four months of 2016.

2014-15 761 .314 .384 .492 23 103 101
2016 (June - October) 390 .292 .341 .556 24 74 60

The most obvious stats that jump off the page here are the upticks in both slugging percentage and home runs. While his Isolated Power (ISO) of .218 was a single-season career high, it jumped all the way up to .264 during this four-month stretch.

If he did that throughout 2016, only Nolan Arenado (.275) and Josh Donaldson (.265) would've been ahead of him among third basemen, with reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant (.262) immediately behind him.

There's room for improvement, too. During this tear, Turner hit those 24 homers off the strength of a 40.3% fly-ball rate and a 40.6% hard-hit rate. There were just eight players who hit 20-plus homers with a fly-ball rate below 41% and a hard-hit rate above 40% last year.

Of that group, five hit 30-plus homers (Miguel Cabrera, Freddie Freeman, Donaldson, Yasmany Tomas and Kendrys Morales). Mike Trout just barely missed that benchmark (he hit 29 homers), and the final two (Gary Sanchez and J.D. Martinez) didn't get a full season's worth of plate appearances.

If Turner can lift the ball in the air a little more -- something he's improved upon in each of this three years with the Dodgers -- then there's upside for even more production in the power department.

A Great Situation

Success in fantasy baseball is as much about opportunity as it is about actually nabbing a top player at any given position. With Turner staying in Los Angeles, he gets an incredible opportunity to produce in one of baseball's deeper lineups.

Roster Resource is projecting him to hit third, with Logan Forsythe and Corey Seager in front of him, while being protected by Adrian Gonzalez and the sneaky-productive Yasmani Grandal behind him.

It is a bummer that Chavez Ravine and AT&T Park are two of the worst parks in baseball for right-handed hitters (according to Baseball Prospectus), but he's been able to produce despite that. He also gets the boost of visiting parks like Chase Field and Coors more than any non-National League West player normally would. Baseball Prospectus tabbed them as two of the three best parks for right-handers to hit in last season.

Considering his recent production and situation, Turner has all the makings of easily being a top-10 fantasy third baseman this year, with the potential of squeaking into the top five. Given how deep the position is, he's still hanging around much later than he should be, which brings a tremendous amount of value for the team owners who have selected him.