The Dodgers’ longest-tenured position player had another productive season, and one of his most durable. But the order in which Justin Turner put together his 2021 was different than most.
Turner credited a Whole 30 diet he and his wife Kourtney tried last offseason for helping him show up to spring training under 200 pounds, a plateau he said he couldn’t get below in previous weight-loss attempts.
“It’s my job to be available every single day for Dave [Roberts] to pencil me into the lineup. It’s his job to decide how many days he wants me in there,” Turner said during spring training, “So I’m going to do everything I can to be available every day, and not have anything physical be a setback for that.”
That method proved incredibly effective for Turner, who re-signed with the Dodgers for two years and $34 million in February. In his age-36 season, Turner tied his career high with 151 games played, and led the Dodgers in games, defensive starts (135), and plate appearances (612).
In the previous five seasons (2016-21), Turner played in 79 percent of Dodgers games, an average of 128 of every 162 games, topping 135 games only once. But in 2021, Turner did not spend any time on the injured list. He missed consecutive games only once, when groin discomfort limited him to just two plate appearances in a six-game stretch in mid-August.
Normally a slow starter, at least in the power department, Turner began 2021 on fire out of the gate. He hit .330/.409/.596 with six home runs in the season’s first month, after hitting just three homers in 480 plate appearances in his previous career Aprils.
A downturn in May (78 wRC+) was followed by a strong June (154 wRC+) and July (165 wRC+). Turner made his second career All-Star team, and singled in his two at-bats at Coors Field.
Turner was a designated hitter in the midsummer classic, but most presciently batted second, directly after reserve shortstop Trea Turner, 17 days before the Dodgers traded for the Nationals star. Justin Turner on his wife’s podcast Holding Kourt recounted his interaction with Trea during the All-Star Game.
“One of the coolest parts of the entire game for me was when I was going up for my first at-bat,” Justin Turner recalled. “I’m walking out on deck, and Trea Turner is hitting in front of me and he turns around and goes, ‘Dude, this has to be the first time in major league history that two Turners are hitting back-to-back in the same lineup.’
“I said, ‘If you go deep, I’m gonna try to go right behind you,’ and he said, ‘Oh, I think you’re asking too much of me.’”
With the Dodgers, Justin Turner and Trea Turner each homered four times in the 11 games in which they batted back-to-back in the lineup, including the playoffs. The Dodgers won eight of the 11 games, though Trea was 16 for 45 (.356/.383/.689) while Justin was 6 for 47 (.128/.146/.383) in those contests.
After hitting .295/.395/.499 with a 141 wRC+ through the end of July, Turner — we’re back to Justin here — hit .241/.311/.414 with a 97 wRC+ over the season’s final two months. He finished with 27 home runs, tying his career high set in 2016 and 2019. Turner also set career bests in runs scored (87), walks (61), and times on base (221).
The full season of games moved Turner further up franchise leaderboards, including extending his Dodgers record to 90 times hit by a pitch.
In the 138-year history of the Dodgers, only three have played more games at third base than Justin Turner’s 819, with an outside chance for Turner to move into second place in 2022. Ron Cey is the only Dodgers third baseman with more career WAR with the team (47.7) than Turner (32.0).
Most Dodgers games at 3B
Turner also tops several Dodgers postseason categories, thanks to being a key component in last last eight playoff runs. He even homered in the National League wild card game, Turner’s 13th career playoff home run, now sharing the top spot on the franchise leaderboard with Corey Seager.
But the usually consistent October performer Turner struggled mightily after that. He was 4 for 34 (.118/.211/.206) in the playoffs, with no extra-base hits after the wild card home run. To add injury to insult, Turner injured his left hamstring in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the NLCS.
Turner left Dodger Stadium on a crutch after Game 4. But before that, he got help from teammates AJ Pollock and Albert Pujols to get off the field. Turner described the injury and aftermath on the Holding Kourt podcast.
“AJ kind of met me on the top step, and helped me down in the dugout,” he said. “Albert actually pretty much carried me all the way down the dugout stairs, back up the clubhouse stairs and into the clubhouse, which was pretty cool considering the situation.”
Turner’s postseason was over, getting replaced on the roster by Andy Burns before Game 5. Even had the Dodgers advanced, Turner would have been ineligible for the World Series.
It was a cruel ending to Turner’s healthiest season in five years.
Stats: .278/.361/.471, 127 wRC+, 27 HR, 22 doubles, 4.0 fWAR, 3.7 bWAR
Salary: $8 million, plus $2 million of his $8 million signing bonus
Game of the year
On June 9 in Pittsburgh, the middle game of a three-game series against the Pirates, Turner homered against Tyler Anderson in both the first and third innings, providing all the Dodgers offense in a 2-1 win.
This was one of two multi-homer games for Turner in 2021, and 12th of his career. Eleven have come with the Dodgers.
Turner will make $16 million in 2022. The Dodgers have a club option for 2023 that would vest if Turner finishes in the top 15 in National League MVP voting next season.