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Justin Turner Just In Time: Is He For Real?

With all the crap blowing around the Mets as if Citi Field was a dust-bowl-era manure farm, it can sometimes be tough to find a smile. Are the fan-favorites going to be around much longer? Will this team get blown up? Does this team even deserve to stay together? It's a mess.

But there is one shining orange-ish light that can be a beacon. Justin Turner has turned Ginger Power into a meme worth enjoying. At his cost, and at his position, he seems likely to stick around a while. Maybe he can be a part of the new core, if a new core is something this team needs once the dust settles.

And yet numbers-savvy fans are skeptical by nature. Is this start just a mirage brought on by the thirst for good news? Is it just an unsustainable few weeks? Is Turner destined to go the way of Ron Swoboda before him?

Even though Turner has not yet appeared at the plate 75 times, there are some statistics that become stable quickly. Pizza Cutter's landmark post on the topic found that the following statistics can be considered reliable at about a 70% level, even at this point in the season.

  • K rate – under 40 PA
  • BB rate – under 40 PA
  • GB rate – under 40 PA
  • LD rate – under 40 PA

And so we are armed with some tools. And, judged solely by these four statistics, there is some hope.

Turner is walking 7.4% of the time, which is below average (8.6% this year), but it's not terrible. It's also basically right in line with his minor league production, which is nice. His strikeout rate right now is strong - 11.1% is way better than the national average (20.8%). That it's built on a great contact percentage (91.4% this year, 91.7% career, 80.9% is average) also points to sustainability. You know what Justin Turner does almost every time? He makes contact on a ball in the zone almost every time he swings (98.4% this year, 98.2% career, 87.8% is average). Turner would lead the league in that stat if he qualified for the batting title.

So we think that Turner can continue his plate discipline. While it's not heavy on the walks, his approach does avoid the strikeout.

Contact is good. Powerful contact is better. Let's turn to his batted ball mix to see what we can learn.

Right now, about half of Turner's balls in play are ground balls. That doesn't bode well for his power. Of players with a GB/FB ratio of 1.69 or worse (Turner is at that number), Michael Young's .152 ISO represents the most power. Of course, Pizza Cutter's article did say that GB/FB ratio and FB rate stabilize further down the line, but if Turner is not going to walk less, and is not going to strike out more, and will hit about the same number of stolen bases, it's hard to see where the extra fly balls are going to come from. Looking at his minor league stats, you can even see that Turner has hit many more ground balls than fly balls in his career. This may hold.

It's not yet time to cry into our beers and lament how 'snake-bitten' our team is. 21.6% of Turner's batted balls have been line drives and that's above the 19-20% floating average. That can make up for some of the lack of fly balls in terms of power. He may not hit home runs on line drives, but he can hit doubles.

In 2010, the average National League second baseman had a .265/.333/.387 line. Turner may find himself right there when it comes to on-base percentage, but his plate discipline and line drive stroke should keep him above average on the other two counts. It might be better if he had speed or real power to add to the package, but this is looking like a comfortably above-average NL second baseman under team control.

That's good news these days in Queens.