Justin Turner had a pretty typical Justin Turner season in 2020, mostly excellent performance when he played, including the postseason, though with injury reducing the time he was actually on the field.
Turner hit .307/.400/.460 in 2020, his 140 wRC+ right in line with his seven years in Los Angeles. From 2014-2020, Turner’s 141 wRC+ is tied for 12th among all major league hitters with at least 1,500 plate appearances. He’s one of the best hitters in baseball, when he plays.
A left hamstring strain sidelined Turner for 14 games, and limited him to designated hitter duty in his first week back on the active roster in September. He played 42 games this season, 70 percent of the possible games. He played in 75 percent of the Dodgers regular season games during his four-year contract. Turner was incredibly productive despite missing a quarter of games, totaling between 14.3 (FanGraphs) and 15.9 (Baseball-Reference) WAR from 2017-2020.
Having a universal DH helped Turner get to that 70 percent of games in 2020, with 10 of his 42 starts coming without wearing a glove. But Turner started all 18 postseason games (17 at third base), and came close to playing every inning. He left the Game 3 blowout win in the NLCS when the Dodgers were up 15-1, and then was removed from Game 6 of the World Series after testing positive for COVID-19.
That latter incident was exacerbated when Turner returned to the field to celebrate with his teammates while COVID-positive, including time without wearing a mask, after the Dodgers won the championship. MLB first admonished Turner for his actions, though it was a lapse in judgment from just about everyone involved — Turner for returning to the field, the Dodgers for letting him do so, and MLB for not making sure Turner stayed isolated and not removing him from the ballpark in the first place. In the end, Turner was not disciplined for the action, and MLB got to wash its hands of the incident while moving on, which is the league’s preferred course at all times.
While Turner was productive at the plate in 2020, his four home runs and nine doubles gave him a .153 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average), his lowest mark in six seasons. From 2015-19, Turner posted a .211 ISO and his lowest single-season mark was .197.
His ISO went up to .221 in the postseason, yet another productive October for Turner, who hit .250/.333/.471. He reached or cemented his perch atop the Dodgers franchise postseason leaderboard in games (72), hits (79), runs scored (40), doubles (19), home runs (12), RBI (41), and of course hit by pitch (11).
During the regular season, Turner getting plunked on August 4 by Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet gave Turner the Dodgers all-time record for hit by pitches, ending the season with 78 for Los Angeles.
Stats: .307/.400/.460, 140 wRC+, 4 HR, 9 doubles, 1.3 WAR
Salary: $19 million
Game of the year
Turner had a four-hit game during the regular season (August 25 in San Francisco) and during the World Series (Game 4), and also homered twice on September 25 against the team from Anaheim. But I’m going off the board here and picking Game 7 of the NLCS, when Turner was 0-for-2 with two walks at the plate.
But his amazing play on defense may have saved the Dodgers’ season. Down 3-2 to the Braves in a winner-take-all game, with runners on second and third and nobody out in the fourth, the Dodgers were in a very bad spot. But then, Turner grabbed a ground ball from Nick Markakis, then threw home, eventually diving to tag Dansby Swanson, the lead runner. But Turner wasn’t done, pivoting to throw to third base to nail Austin Riley for one of the most improbable double plays you’ll ever see.
That play, scored 5-2-5-6, kept the Braves from scoring any more runs in the inning (they already plated one before this double play), which was paramount in a game the Dodgers won by a single run.
“JT is just a baseball-savvy guy, man. He just sees the field so well,” said Corey Seager. “What he did right there in that moment, it was just a lot of fun. It was really cool to be a part of.”
Turner is now a free agent, perhaps the most likely of the Dodgers free agents to return to the team. With or without the DH (aside from the 10 games in American League parks in 2021, assuming a full schedule), the Dodgers would, and should, take however many games Turner can give them, with the roster depth at hand to fill any gaps at third base.