Time to view Turner as run producer instead of table setter?

Our offseason player review series continues today with Trea Turner, who developed into one of the league’s most complete offensive players this season.

PLAYER REVIEW: TREA TURNER

Age on opening day 2021: 27

How acquired: Traded from Padres with Joe Ross for Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott, who went to Rays in three-team deal, December 2014

MLB service time: 4 years, 135 days

2020 salary: $7.45 million (prorated $2,759,259)

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2021, free agent in 2023

2020 stats: 59 G, 259 PA, 233 AB, 46 R, 78 H, 15 2B, 4 3B, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 12 SB, 4 CS, 22 BB, 36 SO, .335 AVG, .394 OBP, .588 SLG, .982 OPS, 157 OPS+, -8 DRS, 2.7 fWAR, 2.1 bWAR

Quotable: “I can’t say enough about what he did this year and how he went out there and perceived everything. I’m proud of him. This was a tough year. He didn’t start off very well. But he battled and came back and had such an unbelievable year.” - Manager Davey Martinez on Turner

Turner-Inside-the-Park-HR-Philly-Sidebar.jpg2020 analysis: It’s easy to forget now, but Turner’s season indeed started off slowly. Twelve games in, he was batting .196 with two doubles, one homer and a .574 OPS. But with back-to-back three-hit days in Baltimore in mid-August, Turner flipped the switch and went one of the most dominant offensive tears in team history.

During a 16-game hitting streak, Turner hit a staggering .507 (34-for-67) with seven doubles, two triples, four homers and 21 runs scored. And though he cooled off a bit in September, he still finished leading the league in hits while ranking fourth in batting average, fifth in runs, sixth in slugging percentage and OPS, seventh in RBIs and second in total bases.

How did Turner elevate his offensive game to these lofty new heights? He started consistently driving the ball up the middle and to right field for the first time in his career. He always had power to the pull side, but this year he showed he could do it the other way as well. Entering 2020, he owned a .414 slugging percentage on balls hit to right field. This year, he slugged .722 in that direction.

“I’m not necessarily hoping to hit the ball the other way,” he said. “I’m trying to hit the ball where it’s pitched. But just making good decisions and relaxing at the plate a little bit, I think, is helping me do all that.”

Whatever the reason behind it, Turner’s ability to produce to every portion of the field helped him become a more complete hitter. And given the Nationals’ needs, he proved he can be much more than a table setter but rather a run producer who doesn’t have to hit leadoff.

2021 outlook: Is it time for the Nationals to start thinking of Turner differently than they have to this point in his career? When they had Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Juan Soto in the lineup, Turner obviously was needed to lead off and set the table. Now, with everyone from the group aside from Soto gone, they probably need him to be a focal point of the heart of their lineup.

Martinez toyed around with the idea of batting Turner third last winter and spring before going back to his original plan. He may need to go back to it next spring, because as we saw this year, the Turner-Soto combo is really productive. It requires someone else to bat leadoff in front of them, but it feels like Turner is wasted right now as a leadoff hitter, unable to drive in as many runs as he’s capable of driving in.

This could also be a really important year for Turner and his chances of staying with the Nationals long-term. He’s got two years to go until he becomes a free agent. As we’ve seen, it’s dangerous to let these guys reach their walk year without a contract already in place.

Turner, one of the few key Nats players not represented by Scott Boras, has suggested he might be amenable to talking an extension now. The front office would be wise to make a real push for it before the lure of free agency becomes too enticing for a guy who could command a huge deal if his career keeps progressing on its current path.

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