Dodgers’ Trea Turner hopes to be his old self come playoffs

Four hours before the first pitch, Trea Turner was already at the plate.

Usually, early batting practice isn’t where you find two-time All-Stars with batting averages close to .300 and a hit title already on their resumes.

But in recent weeks it has become a familiar part of Turner’s pre-game routine – another indication that despite another solid season, he didn’t feel comfortable for a 29-year-old who is regarded as one of the best players in the game has been like the best version of himself for much of the year.

“I don’t know,” he said Tuesday, shaking his head shortly after completing his last early batting practice session in an empty Dodger Stadium. “I feel like I haven’t done a lot right in my head this year.”

Turner’s basic stats belie that frustration.

He bats .296 with a career-high 97 RBIs. He was selected as a starter for the Midsummer Classic for the first time in his career. And in his final year of team control, he still faces a monstrous offseason payday, whether with the Dodgers or one of the many other MLB clubs expected to vie for his services in free agency.

“If he can do what he’s capable of,” said manager Dave Roberts, “he’s one of the best players in the world.”

Lately, however, Turner hasn’t been shy about criticizing his own game.

After suffering a week-long three-hit slump against the Padres during the Dodgers’ most recent road trip, he quipped he “tried to suck less” in a quiet second half of the campaign.

Ahead of a 0-on-3 performance Tuesday that saw him drop his batting average to .237 in his last 32 games, he cited some specific annoyances that stemmed from an inconsistent two-strike approach (he’s on track to his worst walk-to-strikeout ratio). in a full season of his career), a penchant for missing shots on beatable pitches (he has the lowest average exit speed since his rookie year), a decline in strength and ability to drive baseball (he has since had his lowest slugging -Percentage). 2018).

It has by no means torpedoed its entire season.

Turner is still second in the majors in hits and fourth in the National League in batting average.

According to Baseball Reference’s all-encompassing OPS+ metric, he was still 20% better than the average big league hitter.

According to Fangraphs’ version of the victories over the reserve, he ranks third among MLB shortstops, behind only Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets and Dansby Swanson of the Atlanta Braves.

But as he spoke about the entirety of his season, Turner was soon shaking his head again.

“I know the numbers,” he said. “But compared to the last 2½ seasons or so, it just feels like I’ve left a lot on the table.”

Of the many possible influencers, Turner quickly eliminated his looming agency as the culprit, insisting it hadn’t clouded his focus or affected his game.

“It’s more pride in myself,” he said. “I think I can play baseball better. I think I can defend better. I think I can run the bases better. And of course I think I can hit better.”

In the long term, however, his future remains uncertain after he and the Dodgers didn’t make much progress in talks over a possible contract extension this year.

The Dodgers' Trea Turner bats during a game against the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers’ Trea Turner bats during a game against the San Francisco Giants September 7 at Dodger Stadium.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

When Turner hits the open market this winter, he will do so as one of the best options available (along with Swanson and possibly Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts) in a premium position, one that has won multiple orders worth over $300 million. Dollar has received the last couple of years.

However, Turner reiterated that it didn’t bother him.

“I think I made a lot of money in that game and I feel like I’ve played pretty well up to this point in my career,” he said. “People kind of know who I am. It’s about my own expectations. I’ve always been hard on myself, harder than anyone else.”

So what was missing from Turner’s game?

He cited some “bad habits” in his mechanics that led to a frustrating cycle of fixing one problem only to find another had developed.

He’s tried to find answers by examining his momentum from last year, when he won the NL batting title by a mark of .328 (which was lower than his career-best .335 in pandemic-shortened 2020) and at the MVP vote was fifth.

And he believes he made progress both during his early BP sessions and in the weight room, where he worked with vice president of player performance Brandon McDaniel and the rest of the strength team to refine his movements and develop a more consistent pattern.

“I tell them what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, what I’m doing and what I want to do,” he said. “Then they have the knowledge to turn things off, turn things on with certain muscles. I know what I’m doing wrong. It’s just how do I fix it?”

Assistant hitting coach Aaron Bates, one of several observers of Turner’s final early hitting practice Tuesday, identified Turner’s hand placement as the biggest focus.

Bates said Turner’s hands — which wiggle low and loose in his erect stance before rising as he loads onto his hind leg and flies around his body as he swings — his movement doesn’t raise him up enough.

“[When] His hands return when he goes forward, it puts him in that athletic position so his body and hands are free to work,” Bates said. “Then he’s in a position where he can really shoot.”

Roberts has also noted that Turner is struggling lately, pointing out that “when he’s doing well, he’s not a guy who’s doing extra batting practice out here.”

“But right now,” Roberts continued, “he’s trying to feel something.”

With the playoffs on the horizon, the Dodgers are hoping it comes back to him quickly.

Despite all that Turner has accomplished in his career, his postseason history is a checkered one.

In 39 career playoff games, he’s batted just .228 with .561 OPS. He was key in the Washington Nationals run to a World Series title in 2019 (he hit .286 through the NLCS that year before cooling off the fall classic) but walked away on his return to the playoffs with the Dodgers last fall only 11 to 51.

Even Roberts conceded that Turner “didn’t have a good postseason last year” despite being “the hottest hitter in the world” in October.

However, Roberts then changed the tone.

“Hopefully we turn it on its head this year,” he said.

And what might be his last act as a Dodger, how close is Turner to finding his peak form again?

“A swing,” Bates said. “He’ll know it’s right, in one fell swoop. And then it will be a steamroller effect.” Dodgers’ Trea Turner hopes to be his old self come playoffs

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