If you follow me on Twitter or listen to Six Man Roto, you probably knew this article was coming sooner or later. I have been on a crusade against Trea Turner for months, and the resistance I’ve received (especially on Twitter) has been enormous. To be clear, I am not advocating against drafting Trea Turner at all in your fantasy league. I recognize his great potential and his place as one of the elite young players in baseball today. I am, however, a stickler for players (and things in general) being valued properly. I look at Trea Turner right now and see early 2001 Enron; an asset with some real value but that is being propped up by hype and incorrect valuations.
What You Get From Trea Turner
Turner should be off the board within the first 20-25 picks of every league. What he provides your fantasy team is undeniable. He’ll hit leadoff for the Nationals, an envious position to be sure. Over the past 4 seasons, Nationals leadoff hitters have scored the 5th most runs in all of baseball, thanks in large part to the deadly combination of Harper, Rendon, and Zimmerman hitting directly behind them over that time. The lineup for the Nats should be relatively similar this year, making Turner a relative lock for 100 runs over a full season.
In standard 5×5 or roto leagues, Turner will also provide a solid batting average from the SS position. Over the same period of 4 years, Turner is second among shortstops with a .304 AVG, just one point behind the leader Corey Seager at .305. With the league shifting more towards a power hitting emphasis, high average hitters become more valuable in most fantasy formats so this is yet another plus for Turner. Solid start for your possible first round pick, but this is where the questions begin to mount.
Will Trea Turner Hit 25 Home Runs?
This is the contentious stat when discussing Turner as a fantasy asset. Starting off with a .300 AVG and 100 runs, if Turner can add 25+ home runs to his stat line then his value as a first round pick becomes a little more solid. Over the past 4 seasons, Turner has played slightly more than a full season’s worth of games (198) and has hit 25 home runs. So 25 home runs over a full 162 game season is certainly possible looking at the numbers, and experts around the industry seem to agree as almost every talking head projects him to reach or at least get within a couple of that goal. If you simply extrapolate his home run rate for his young career so far, he is averaging about 20 home runs per 162.
A look at Turner’s statcast data and data-based projection systems tells a slightly less rosy story. In 2017, Turner hit the ball roughly as hard as Addison Russell (12 HR in 110 games) and barrelled the ball at the same rate as Andrew Benintendi (20 HR in 151 games), both of whom project for about 17 home runs over the full season in 2018. With Turner’s underlying profile, 17-20 home runs for 2018 and going forward seems more realistic and closer to Zips and Steamer, which have him projected for less than 18 HR. Still not a bad look when added to the aforementioned .300 AVG and 100 runs.
Is 60 Steals Worth The Price?
This is where Trea Turner stands out from the field. In his young career, Turner is stealing 66 bases per 162 games, a pace that is unmatched by anyone else in baseball. This is where his real value comes from for the experts projecting him as a first round, even top 5 pick in fantasy. 60 SBs is a huge challenge for any player, no matter how fast or talented. Over the past 5 MLB seasons, only three players have hit the 60 SB milestone in a single season (Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, and Jonathan Villar). Stolen bases are in decline around the league due to injury concerns (Mike Trout in 2017) and the new wave of analytics that show that running into an unnecessary out is worse than the positive benefit you get from a successful stolen base.
The change in management in Washington could play a significant role in this discussion as well. Over the offseason, the Nationals replaced old school Dusty Baker with new wave Davey Martinez. In the three years that Baker managed the Nats, the team had the 10th most stolen bases in the league and the 8th most stolen base attempts. He is now replaced by Martinez, who has been the Cubs bench coach over the same period of 3 seasons and during which the Cubs rank in the bottom half of the league in both stolen bases and attempts. Martinez was in charge of baserunning decisions in Chicago, and in Tampa Bay where he was the bench coach previously. It is obvious that he has bought into what analytics say about the value of stolen bases, as his Rays were the leader in steals and attempts during his 8 years in the dugout there. As a result, 60 steals seems possible but unrealistic for Turner and I feel that a mark of 50 stolen bases for 2018 is more likely.
Pay The Price or Find A Discount
This brings us to my biggest complaint about Trea Turner at the moment; his ADP (average draft position).
FantasyPros – 5
RotoWire – 4.74
Fantrax – 8.2
ESPN – 9.6
Yahoo – 6.8
In the average league, Trea Turner is being drafted ahead of guys like Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, and Bryce Harper and from my point of view he does not provide the overall value of these players while requiring a higher price.
In RBIs, Turner lags behind these other names and should continue to do so even over a full season because of his spot in the lineup and the relative weakness of the bottom of the Nationals batting order.
Runs is one of the few categories where Turner can directly compete with the others, because of his good AVG and OBP allowing him plenty of opportunities to be on base for the RBI machines hitting behind him in the Nationals lineup.
Even if you give Turner the benefit of the doubt and assume he will hit his 25 home run projection (which I don’t, as detailed above), he will still lag behind the others who all have 30 home run plus potential.
If you look solely at 2018 projections for each using standard 5×5 category scoring, the picture becomes even more baffling:
Turner lags behind the projections of all four in every category but stolen bases. The trend in fantasy right now is that stolen bases are so scarce that they are worth overpaying for, but you can get steals later in the draft while building a better combined line than if you draft steals early with Turner and wait later for power.
Bryce Harper (1st) and Delino DeShields (15th)
.284 AVG, 209 R, 138 RBI, 44 HR, 51 SB
Trea Turner (1st) and Jay Bruce (13th)
.257 AVG, 166 R, 146 RBI, 43 HR, 61 SB
Above is just one example of this strategy, one in which you come out ahead by a significant margin in AVG and runs with nearly identical RBI and home run totals while drafting the second piece of the puzzle two rounds later (DeShields in the 15th vs Bruce in the 13th).
I am not at all advocating for kicking Trea Turner to the curb and ignoring him in every league. If you have a late first round pick or early second and he’s still hanging around, go ahead and grab him; he’s good value there.
If you have a top 5 pick though, look elsewhere. There is better value still on the board at that point. Let someone else regret their first round pick at the end of the season while you gloat about your championship because you picked someone in the first round who will carry your team in all categories rather than just providing elite production in one.