One of the nation’s best baseball writers, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, has a knack for shedding new light on his subjects, which is precisely what he did in a 2021 column about Trea Turner. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/05/sports/baseball/trea-turner-nationals.html)
Kepner called Turner “baseball’s most overlooked superstar,” pointing out that the Nats’ shortstop topped the much-touted Fernando Tatis Jr. in slugging and on-base-percentage as well as batting average in 2020. Yet Tatis finished fourth in the voting for most valuable player – ahead of Juan Soto, for gosh sake – while Turner came in seventh.
The focus of the column was more about Turner skills on the base paths than at the plate. His 43 steals led the league in 2018. Limited to 98 games in 2017, he stole 46. Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long told Kepner that he thinks Turner could steal 75 bases. Turner, who twice has stolen four bases in a game, mostly demurs.
“With that many sprints, dive-backs, all those things, it’s harder than people think,” Turner explained to Kepner. A player who slides head-first, Trea has lost playing time twice with bones broken in his hands. (Admittedly, both were the result of being hit while batting.)
Turner, measured as the fastest regular player in the majors, made clear that he believes speed and base-stealing are under-appreciated in today’s game. “What wins ballgames for the most part (is) getting that big three-run homer. But you’ve got to promote other things” – like speed – “to show people how special our game is.”
While Soto’s emergence as a superstar in 2020 attracted the most attention, Turner quietly had a season nearly as outstanding. Playing the most demanding position, Turner hit .335 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 59 games. His on-base-percentage was .394; his slugging percentage was .588. He led the National League with 78 hits and four triples. Turner, not Tatis, should have been the N.L.’s Silver Slugger at shortstop. Trea already is the Nationals career leader in triples and stolen bases.
The N.L. has an abundance of star shortstops. Aside from Tatis in San Diego, the Mets now have Francisco Lindor, the Dodgers have Corey Seager, the Astros have Carlos Correa and the Cubs have Javier Baez. So it will be hard for Turner to win the vote of the fans to start this season’s All-Star game, but surely if he puts up numbers similar to last season, he’ll deserves to be on the team.
What’s most important, of course, is how many games he helps the 2021 Nats win. He may fly under the national radar, but he does indeed fly.