Trea Turner Is Excelling as Washington's Leadoff Hitter
Setting the tone early.
We hear this phrase constantly in the sports world, whether it's a pitcher wanting to attack the strike zone from the jump, or a defense in football ensuring that they pressure the quarterback right from the first snap.
Offensively this season for the Washington Nationals, their early tone was generally a quick out to start the game.
They opened the season with Ben Revere as their leadoff hitter, but he injured himself in the first game of the season, leaving the Nats to turn to Michael Taylor as a replacement for the rest of April and the beginning of May. All you need to know about how he performed is that he's not on the big-league roster anymore.
Revere returned from a stint on the disabled list on May 8 and was the primary leadoff hitter until mid-July, although he didn't fare any better than the since-demoted Taylor. Revere hit .170 in May with a .217 wOBA. He showed signs of life in June, increasing his average to .274, but his wOBA was still a weak .276 for the month.
The Nationals had a problem at the top of their order, and it needed to be addressed. Enter 23-year-old savior Trea Turner.
Turner was recalled from Triple-A on July 8th, but Dusty Baker didn't plug Turner into the every-day lineup until July 15th. He served as the team's leadoff hitter that day and appears to have a stranglehold on the job.
Turner has played in just 19 games this season (81 plate appearances), but he owns an impressive .312/.346/.494 slash with a .356 wOBA. This looks even better when it's compared to Revere's .213/.260/.291 slash and .243 wOBA.
The rookie was renowned for his speed, and in the big leagues, he's already shown that the wheels play at the big-league level.
You have to have blazing speed and good instincts to steal home, and Turner showed both on this play. He's yet to be caught stealing this season, going a perfect 8-for-8 in his attempts, but his speed is useful in other situations as well.
Just as there aren't too many guys who are capable of stealing home, there aren't many capable of turning that ball into a triple. He owns a 0.7 Base Running (BsR) mark, which is FanGraphs' all encompassing baserunning stat and takes all plays on the bases into account. On a 162-game pace, this would give Turner roughly a 6.0 BsR, which only seven hitters reached last season.
His excellent speed has helped lead to four triples over the last 30 days, which is the most in baseball during that span. It's one more than Brett Gardner has -- the only other hitter with more than two -- yet Turner has 29 fewer plate appearances than Gardner in the last 30 days.
Turner's wheels could be put to even better use if he started walking more. Turner posted a 10.0% walk rate in 371 plate appearances in Triple-A this season, but so far in the majors, he's rarely walked, which isn't uncommon for young players. He owns just a 3.7% walk rate, which would be tied for eighth-lowest among qualified hitters this season.
His inability to draw walks isn't because of a lack of plate discipline -- the percentage of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone is 31.8%, just above the current league average of 29.9 percent -- nor because of an overly aggressive approach as his overall swing percentage is 46.0%, which is in line with the current league average of 46.4%.
Turner is seeing 4.05 pitches per plate appearance so far this season, which would be the 18th most among qualified hitters, so his lack of walks is also not tied to jumping at the first strike he gets, nor is it because he's seeing more strikes than most hitters. The percentage of pitches in the strike zone Turner has received is 40.6, which is well below the current league average of 45.2 percent.
All of that to say: the walks will start to come.
In addition to the lack of free passes, Turner has struggled to make contact when he does choose to swing. His contact percentage this season is 68.2%, which is more than 10 points lower than the current league average (78.3%), which makes sense considering his swinging-strike percentage (14.6%) is significantly higher than the current league average (10.0%).
However, when he does make contact, Turner tends to crush the ball. His 42.1% hard-hit rate would be the fourth-highest among qualified hitters this season and has led to impressive feats, such as his first home run of the season during Wednesday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
🔥🔥 Fahrenheit 451 (feet) 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/TTZVy7EHcv
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 4, 2016
Turner is listed weighing just 175 pounds, but it doesn't mean he can't have serious pop. The 450 foot shot was the second longest home run this season for the Nationals, and further than any home run teammate Bryce Harper has hit.
Trea Turner's 3rd-inning home run was the second-longest by a @Nationals player this season (Wilson Ramos, 455 ft). pic.twitter.com/0PHyfnvFA9
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 3, 2016
It would be easy to look at Turner's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and say that his success this season has been lucky. A .411 BABIP understandably jumps out and screams regression -- league average is currently .299 -- but Turner's studly hard-hit rate coupled with his impressive wheels will lend itself to a higher BABIP.
This isn't to say Turner's BABIP won't come down -- it will -- but his impressive stretch hasn't been based on one inflated statistic.
The Nationals haven't just found their leadoff hitter for the rest of the season, but possibly one for many years to come. Turner has already shown how valuable he can be, posting a 0.8 wins above replacement (fWAR), according to FanGraphs. This puts him on a 162-game pace for a 6.8 fWAR, something only six hitters reached in 2015.
Normally a shortstop, the Nats have dabbled with using Turner as a center fielder.
He didn't disappoint.
He made this running catch in his first game as a center fielder in the big leagues, and it wasn't an easy one, either. He ran 112 feet and reached a max speed of 20.9 miles per hour for a 97.8 route efficiency, according to MLB.com's Andrew Simon.
The Nationals have a new tone-setter, and it looks like he's here to stay. It plugs one of the few holes in Washington's roster and makes the Nats, who rank second in our power rankings, even better. Our models give them a 14.0% chance to win it all, which is second only to the Chicago Cubs (23%).