Trea Turner at the Phillies is fine… for now at least
Two-time All-Star Trea Turner will be a Philadelphia Phillie for the next 11 years old. He will turn 30 in 2023, meaning the deal will end when Turner turns 40. This long-term contract with Turner towards the end of his prime worries some people. The two biggest concerns I’ve seen in this situation are Turner’s sudden willingness to chase pitches outside the strike zone and his speed.
The latter is obvious. Turner is a very quick player. According BaseballSavant, Turner was the fifth-fastest player in MLB with an average sprint speed of 30.3 feet per second over 276 competitive runs. This is very likely to decrease with age. Given Turner’s reliance on his speed for stolen bases, the ability to take extra base when his teammates are tagged, and the ability to stretch singles into doubles, doubles into triples, etc., it would be easy to assume that Turner should lose his speed, he would lose a lot of his value, but he might not lose as much speed as you might think. On average, a baseball player loses about one inch per second each year. Over the next eleven years, that would imply that Turner would drop from 30.3 feet per second to 29.3, which would still rank him 35th in MLB in sprint speed.
I’m willing to admit he’ll probably get a lot slower considering most players lose an inch a year at 26 or 27 and Turner will be in his late 30s.s. That said, he probably won’t start losing speed until his mid to late 30s, which makes the first half of this contract irrelevant when it comes to his speed. Plus, the lack of speed doesn’t remove Turner’s value as a baserunner. He would still likely be a base stealing threat, due to his incredible ability to read pitchers. High speed doesn’t guarantee someone gets a lot of stolen bases. If that were the case, Amed Rosario wouldn’t have been caught stealing a league leader ten times in 2019. He also likely would have had more than 18 stolen bases in 2022. That ability to tell when a pitcher is coming home to home and making that jump plays a big part in a player’s basic flying prowess. Anyone who’s ever watched Turner can tell you he’s one of the best at it.
Turner’s willingness to chase pitches outside the strike zone is the most troubling part of his game. this video shows, players who tend to rely on outside contact for base hits tend to struggle later in their careers as their batting speed and reaction times slow. Turner has never been someone who chases balls out of the strike zone consistently, but in 2022 his Outer Zone Swing Percentage (O-Swing%) has increased from 30.7% in 2021 to 36.4% in 2022, almost 4% more than his previous career. -high: 32.6% in 2016. It’s a worrying number, but it does not guarantee that Turner will die out.
For one thing, 2022 has been a tough year for hitters in general. The league-wide O-Swing percentage was around 32.7%, according to figures from FanGraphs. That’s a huge jump from 2021 and 2020 (around 30.9% and 31% respectively). While Turner’s chase rate increase may be disproportionate, it still coincides with the trend for 2022, which has been a positive year for pitchers. I expect that figure to fall back towards 30% in 2023, although not all the way.
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All that said, Turner is pretty reliant on being able to hit pitches outside the zone in order to provide value. In fact, according to BaseballSavant, Turner only provided value on pitches outside the strike zone. On pitches in the middle or near the zone, Turner provided -2 points of offense in total for the Los Angeles Dodgers. On pitches away from the strike zone, he provided 26 total offensive runs. In comparison, Mike Trout provided 17 runs of total offense on the pitches, or near, the zone, while offering 26 series of attacks on grounds well outside. Most of this value on lands far from the zone comes from taking lands rather than swinging them. This goes for both players, but as we just saw, Turner has increased his chase rate from 2022.
Trout’s O-Swing rate has also increased recently from 22.1% in 2021 to 26.3% in 2022. But as I said earlier, this can be attributed to the league trend this year. In general though, Trout’s O-Swing percentage didn’t jump as big as Turner’s, and is not as high as Turner’s in the first place. He, much like Turner, has taken a huge hit in the O-Contact rate in recent years, but his chase rate is still low enough to not hurt Trout too much offensively.
A low chase rate is not guaranteed to derail a player’s career. The most infamous swinger in recent memory is Vladimir Guerrero. From 2007 until the end of his career in 2011, Guerrero never had an O-Swing percentage below 40. In 2004, that figure was a relatively low 30.6%. Despite this insane increase in pursuit rate and the fact that Guerrero was already 32 in 2007, Guerrero’s percentage of O contacts actually increased from 56.9% in 2002 to 65.5% in 2007 to 73.2%. in 2011. Contact might not have been as solid, but just making contact more often contradicts the argument that Turner will undoubtedly regress when it comes to contact rate on the pitches outside of The area. Also, Turner’s speed and lack of confidence on the long ball compared to Guerrero might actually be a good thing if he ends up following the same path as Guerrero.
Guerrero has posted an OPS-plus of over 100 in four of his last five seasons and an OPS-plus of over 110 in three of them. Even though he had aged, he had maintained high-level offensive production. The same could still happen to Turner. On the other hand, perhaps comparing Turner to a Hall of Fame slugger like Guerrero is unfair.
There is also the possibility that the Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long can help Turner stop chasing pitches. Long became Philadelphia’s batting coach this year, but before Philly he had been batting coach at Washington (2018-21 with Turner) and with both New York teams (Yankees: 2007-14; Mets: 2015-17). Since 2007, Long’s offenses have only finished outside the Top 10 in O-Swing percentage (as they chased the fewest pitches) three times – 2013, 2017 and 2020 shortened by COVID. While Long’s Phillies finished 26th in hunting rate in 2022, his career ratings in this category would suggest a turnaround in the near future, which would help Turner considerably.
Even if Turner ends up declining quickly after just three years on his contract, this deal could still be worth it for Philadelphia. After reaching the World Series in 2021, the Phillies are in win-now mode. No matter how much they spend or how much it costs them in the long run, the Phillies are looking to snag a championship banner in the very near future. Turner, until proven otherwise, is a valuable addition to an already championship-caliber roster at their least valuable position from 2021. If they win a championship, the rest of his contract will be worth it, no matter what. ‘he is coming. A championship is worth ten years of disappearance. Luckily for the Phillies, it will likely be much less, if at all.