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Turner's decision for 2020 -- play 3B or 1B?

Postseason star as reliable as ever in 2019, but defensive change may await
@kengurnick
October 18, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Considering the most recent Dodgers results, any assessment of Justin Turner in 2019 should begin with his postseason play. In the biggest games of the year, Turner always shows up, which can’t be said for enough Dodgers. In this year’s National League Division Series, Turner had a

LOS ANGELES -- Considering the most recent Dodgers results, any assessment of Justin Turner in 2019 should begin with his postseason play.

In the biggest games of the year, Turner always shows up, which can’t be said for enough Dodgers. In this year’s National League Division Series, Turner had a 1.000 OPS. Enough said.

His regular season was nothing to be embarrassed about, either. He matched his career high with 27 home runs, even though he had only one in April. He set a career best with 80 runs scored. His .973 fielding percentage at third base was the best of his career, even though other defensive metrics were not as flattering.

What went right?

On offense, Turner's regular-season stats were as solid as expected -- .290/.372/.509 -- and his ability to work counts and deliver in October is matched on the Dodgers only by Max Muncy. And, as usual, Turner was the L.A. clubhouse leader. Probably most important, the veteran stayed generally healthy.

“I felt pretty good all year,” he said. “I know I haven't been on the injured list this year, which I've spent a lot of time on in my career. But I have had some stretches where I've been dealing with some things and it wasn't necessarily big enough to where I had to miss [games]. And in September I was fortunate enough that the rosters were already expanded, so I didn't have to go on there. But I think it's just one of those things that the older you get, the stuff happens. And you have aches and you have bumps and bruises and it's not quite as easy to just shake it off and get out there. So I'm happy with how much I've been on the field.”

What went wrong?

He showed no power in April (nothing new there; he has three April homers in his career) and he had limited opportunities in September while nursing those minor dings. He’ll be 35 next season, which is why there’s an assumption he will move across the diamond to first base sooner or later, perhaps transitioning into an uber-David Freese role in his next contract.

Turner's glove and arm are still Major League solid, but his range is declining. FanGraphs defensive metrics tell the tale:

Here are his Defensive Runs Saved at third base since 2016:

2016: 7
2017: 6
2018: 1
2019: -7

And here’s his Ultimate Zone Rating in that same span:

2016: 9.2
2017: -1.8
2018: -1.8
2019: -6.7

Best moment

On May 7, Turner slugged a career-high three home runs with six RBIs in a 9-0 win over Atlanta.

2020 Outlook

Turner enters the final year of a four-year, $64 million contract as the anchor of the Dodgers' batting order and presumably as the starter at third. There’s talk the Dodgers will pursue free agent Anthony Rendon and Turner has said he’d move to make room. But there’s talk every offseason that the Dodgers will pursue the biggest marquee free agents and, under this regime, it’s always nothing more than talk.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.