The Mets will always have “the one that got away”
Let’s look at hockey for a moment. There are several stats used to predict how a player will perform over time. Looking at a player’s stats in junior, based on how they’ve performed so far, you can more or less determine how good that player will be down the line. You can determine when, and at what age they’ll reach their peak. You can determine when their skill level will start to drop off. And so teams have adjusted. There’s still a fair amount of scouting that goes into the process as well. But even to have such an opportunity to predict a players skill level and ceiling over time is spectacular.
The same can’t be said for baseball. There’s no real way to predict based on a young player’s performance and how he’ll develop over time. Stats and other sabermetrics can give us a general idea of how good a player can be, but it rarely pans out the way it does in hockey. Often we see that player traded to a new team and suddenly they’re a superstar.
Which brings us to Justin Turner. Since going to the Dodgers, he’s improved defensively as a third baseman, but it’s his presence at the plate that has Mets fans shaking their fists at the TV. But is it really true that we didn’t see this coming?
Turner’s last season with the Mets was 2013. In 86 games that year, his numbers were .280/.319/.385. He was mostly a utility player in that time. If we go back one more year, to Turner’s season in 2012, we see his numbers at .269/.319/.392. His on-base and slugging percentage remain about the same, but between 2012 and 2013 his batting average overall made a bit of a jump.
The red-hot summer
If you were trying to predict Turner’s career from a purely statistical point of view, it may look as though this would be his ceiling. Then, in the summer of 2013, the Mets signed Marlon Byrd. And while Byrd didn’t have quite the impact on the Mets in 2014 that they may have hoped, he definitely had an impact on the future of Justin Turner.
The two would work together rebuilding his swing, and when the Dodgers picked him up in 2014 Turner looked like a new man at the plate.
"“We did it five days a week for four months, trying to fix [my swing] and get to where I can repeat it. Went to Spring [Training], had success. Throughout all last year, from that base we established, we made adjustments on the fly within the parameters of the philosophies we had, and started having success.”"
Turner’s numbers have continued to climb since 2014. Leaving him with what we see at the plate today. The clutch power hitter with a glorious red beard. Excluding the postseason, Turner finished the year .322/.415/.530. Since 2015 he could be classified as a consistent .300 hitter at the plate.
So what is the reality here for the Mets. Could they have known? Should they have known? As much as I want to say “yes,” I’m reminded that hindsight is always 20/20. The Mets didn’t need another middle of the road utility player at the time. The team had David Wright and to be fair they weren’t the only team that didn’t think Turner was a major leaguer. There were 28 other clubs that didn’t sign him after he was non-tendered. Even the Dodgers themselves originally brought him on as a minor leaguer.
But, if there’s one thing I can say the Mets probably ignored, it was Turner’s hustle. In fact, it was one of the reasons they mentioned when they let Turner go.
"“…the front office had grown tired of what they perceived as a lack of hustle…”"
“What they perceived” is the key phrase here where the Mets actively decided to shoot themselves in the foot.
Now I don’t really know what the issue here was in 2013. I was not in the Mets front office at the time, and as far as I know, I don’t think I ever will be. I’m not sure what aspect of Turner’s play read as lazy to them. Every time I watched Turner out on the field I could see how much effort he put out there. True, his numbers weren’t always highlight-reel worthy. But you should always bet on the guy who hustles. Or more importantly, don’t turn a blind eye to it.