Unsung Hero: Justin Turner

The 2013 Dodger bench was integral in their success. With a roster riddled with injury, unsung heroes like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker stepped up and filled in while Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and others made multiple trips to the disabled list. The haphazard Dodger bench weren’t exactly slugging homeruns, but they strung together singles and got on base when needed. If you had told me before the 2013 season that Nick Punto would be playing 116 games for the Dodgers in 2013, I would have not believed you. Nevertheless I eventually welcomed the jersey shredding and the head-first slides into first base.

Understandably I was worried this past winter when Oakland signed Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker moved on to St. Louis. The Dodgers have had fruitless benches for the most part during recent seasons. They all can’t be Manny Mota. Heck, I’d take an Olmedo Saenz most of the time. I don’t even want to remind you (but I will) of Garrett Anderson’s pinch-hitting futility in 2010. His 52 pinch-hitting plate appearances yielded 12 hits good for a .240 batting average. Not horrible by any standard, but when combined with his starting numbers it did indeed become ugly.

Enough about Garrett Anderson. Let’s talk about Justin Turner. Turner, who signed with the Dodgers in the offseason for one-

August 16, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner (10) hits an RBI double in the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

August 16, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner (10) hits an RBI double in the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

year and $1 million has returned his investment tenfold for the Dodgers. Turner will also still be under team control and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2017. Turner, a 29-year old Southern California native, has exceeded my expectations this season. He has had 24 plate appearances in the pinch-hitting role and is hitting .409/.417/.455 with 9 pinch-hits. Don Mattingly has a great option in Turner off the bench in key pinch-hitting situations.

Not only has Turner excelled off the bench, but he has also shored up the infield and started in place of the injured Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe when needed. He is hitting .305/.378/.414 overall on the season with 64 hits including 12 doubles and 3 homeruns. He’s played 43 games at third base, 10 at second base, 9 at shortstop and 1 game at first base. His versatility around the infield really allows Mattingly to rest guys when needed or use Turner as a substitute and not forgo the offensive production a Miguel Rojas would.

Defensively Turner is adequate, and even though we all have that bad game in our minds when he committed two errors in one inning versus the Brewers, he still only has committed 4 errors at third, 3 miscues at short and 1 error at second base. For a bench utility player, I find that acceptable. Comparatively, Punto committed 8 errors while playing a combination of shortstop, third and second base in 2013 for the Dodgers. Even though Punto is the better defensive player (career 12.2 dWAR vs. -0.9 dWAR), Punto also hit only .176 in 20 pinch-hitting plate appearances for the Dodgers last season (3 pinch-hits). With Oakland paying the 36-year old Punto $3 million this year (he’s hitting an overall .207/.300/.279 this year with the A’s), I think the Dodgers got the best value and bargain with Turner.

The Dodgers have really struggled with runners in scoring position this season. Without Turner’s timely hitting, the Dodgers would have fared even worse. Turner’s clutch hitting stats have been indispensable to this 2014 team.

A few weeks ago, Adrian Garcia wrote about the Dodgers’ bench and its important role in the Dodgers’ season thus far. He reminds us that the Dodgers have been forced to use Chone Figgins in 38 games this season (since released), Clint Robinson, Carlos Triunfel, Mike Baxter, Miguel Olivo, Erisbel Arruebarrena, Miguel Rojas, and Tim Federowicz in order to fill in holes after starting players have succumbed to injuries scattered throughout the season. You can’t play a season with only 25 men, and this couldn’t be more true for the Dodgers these past two seasons.

I wrote about my concern over the Dodgers’ bench last December. I was worried. I created the Help Wanted ad after my frightening dream that Mike Baxter would be patrolling the outfield come Opening Day 2014.

More concern. I did think the Dodgers were going to bring back Nick Punto at the time. I didn’t think Ned Colletti could possibly pass on more head-first slides. Yet, the overpaying of Oakland put an end to the Punto era in L.A. Jerry Hairston moved on to the broadcast booth, and I must say I think he is doing a great job with SportsNet LA. Like the Dodgers, I saw Dee Gordon as a bench option and nothing more. Scott Van Slyke would surely be back with his usefulness off the bench against left-handed pitching.

“The bench has been neglected far too long. As of right now the bench is devoid of power, speed, and depth.”

Looking back I realize the bench situation wasn’t that bad. I’m thrilled that Gordon’s redefinition has shot him into a starting role at second base which garnered him an All-Star selection. Scott Van Slyke is a nice bench piece to have against lefties and can play acceptably in all three positions in the outfield. Van Slyke is the only Dodger to hit a pinch-hit homerun this year. Miguel Rojas and Erisbel Arruebarrena are wonderfully skilled with the glove, and Arruebarrena has a future as a big league shortstop. Andre Ethier, turned bench player, is also making himself more versatile by playing some first base. Ethier is also hitting well as a pinch-hitter this year. He is second to Turner with 5 pinch-hits and a .294 batting average in 17 at-bats. Drew Butera has been a admirable backup catcher to A.J. Ellis, and I have thoroughly enjoyed his career-high 3 homeruns and his glorious 1 2/3 innings of relief pitching work.

The “Flying Tomato” of  baseball, Justin Turner, has really emerged as the Dodger’s #1 bench player this season. With Brendan Harris almost wiped from my memory, I look forward to Justin Turner’s long red locks flying in the breeze as he hits more for the Dodgers down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Now if I can just get that “Turn Down for What” song out of my head.

Tags: Justin Turner Los Angeles Dodgers

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