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

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

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

Normally, early batting practice isn’t the place you find two-time All-Stars with near .300 batting averages and a hitting title already on their resume.

But for the last several weeks, it has become a familiar part of Turner’s pregame routine — another indication that, in spite of another solid season for a 29-year-old considered to be one of the game’s best hitters, he hasn’t felt like the best version of himself for much of the year.

“I don’t know,” he said Tuesday, shaking his head moments after concluding his latest early batting practice in an empty Dodger Stadium. “I feel like I haven’t done very much right this year, in my head.”

Turner’s baseline statistics bely such frustration.

He is batting .296 with a career-high 97 RBIs. He was voted a starter for the midsummer classic for the first time in his career. And, in his last year of team control, he is still in line for a monstrous payday in the offseason, be it 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 doing,” manager Dave Roberts said, “he’s one of the best players on the planet.”

Recently, though, Turner hasn’t been shy about nitpicking his own game.

After snapping a week-long slump with three hits against the Padres during the Dodgers last road trip, he quipped he has been “trying to suck less” amid a quiet second half of the campaign.

Before an 0-for-3 performance Tuesday — dropping his batting average to .237 over his last 32 games — he cited a few specific annoyances, from an inconsistent two-strike approach (he’s on track for his worst walk-to-strikeout ratio in a full season in his career), to a penchant for misfiring on hittable pitches (he has his lowest average exit velocity since his rookie year), to a decline in power and ability to drive the baseball (he has his lowest slugging percentage since 2018).

It hasn’t torpedoed his overall season by any means.

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 has still been 20% better than the average big-leaguer hitter.

By Fangraphs’ version of wins above replacement, he ranks third among MLB shortstops, behind only Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets and Dansby Swanson of the Atlanta Braves.

Yet, as he discussed the totality of his season, Turner was soon shaking his head again.

“I know what the numbers are,” 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 potential contributing factors, Turner was quick to eliminate his looming free agency as a culprit, insisting it hasn’t clouded his focus or impacted his play.

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

In the long term, though, his future is still shrouded in uncertainty, after he and the Dodgers failed to make much progress in talks over a potential contract extension this year.

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

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

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

If Turner does reach the open market this winter, he will do so as one of the best available options (along with Swanson and potentially Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts) at a premium position, one that has seen multiple $300-plus million contracts doled out the past couple years.

Turner, however, reiterated it hasn’t occupied his mind.

“I think I’ve made plenty of money in this 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 a matter of my own expectations. I’ve always been hard on myself, more hard than anybody else.”

So what has been missing in Turner’s game?

He cited some “bad habits” in his mechanics, leading to a frustrating cycle in which he’ll fix one problem only to realize another has developed.

He has tried to find answers by studying his swing from last year, when he won the NL batting title with a .328 mark (which was lower than his career-best .335 in the pandemic-shortened 2020) and finished fifth in MVP voting.

And he thinks he has made strides during both his early BP sessions, as well as in the weight room, where he’s worked with vice president of player performance Brandon McDaniel and the rest of the strength staff to refine his movements and develop a more consistent pattern.

“I tell them what I’m feeling, what I think I’m doing and what I want to do,” he said. “Then they have the knowledge to shut 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 latest early batting practice session Tuesday, identified Turner’s hand placement as the biggest area of focus.

Bates said Turner’s hands — which waggle low and loose in his set-up stance, before rising up as he loads onto his back leg and helicoptering around his body when he swings — aren’t getting up enough through his motion.

“[When] his hands return up as he goes forward, it gets him into that athletic position to allow his body and hands to work freely,” Bates said. “Then he’s in a position where he can really fire from.”

Roberts has noticed Turner laboring of late, too, pointing out that “when he’s going well, he’s not a guy that’s out here taking extra batting practice.”

“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 quick.

For all Turner has accomplished in his career, his postseason history is checkered.

In 39 career playoff games, he has batted just .228 with a .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 went just 11 for 51 in his return to the playoffs with the Dodgers last fall.

Even Roberts acknowledged that Turner “didn’t have a good postseason last year” despite being “the hottest hitter on the planet” entering October.

Roberts, however, then changed tones.

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

And, in what could be his final act as a Dodger, how close is Turner to rediscovering top form?

“One swing,” Bates said. “He’ll know it’s right with one swing. And then, it will be a steamroll effect.”

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