Is Lindor NL East's top SS? Not so fast

February 7th, 2021

When it comes to accolades, is clearly the most decorated shortstop in the National League East, with four All-Star selections, two Silver Sluggers, two Gold Glove Awards and a Platinum Glove.

But is the Mets' newest superstar the best shortstop in the division? It’s closer than you think.

Nationals shortstop hasn't made an All-Star team or won a major award, but he is making the case that he belongs in the conversation with Lindor -- not to mention the other four star shortstops who are set to become free agents next offseason: , , and .

Turner, who has two years of team control remaining, is coming off a 2020 season in which he led the Majors with 78 hits and posted a .335/.394/.588 slash line (157 OPS+) with 12 homers and 12 steals in 59 games.

Since the beginning of 2019, the 27-year-old ranks sixth among MLB shortstops in FanGraphs wins above replacement, in a virtual tie with Lindor.

fWAR, 2019-20
Turner: 6.3
Lindor: 6.2

ZiPS and Steamer, two prominent projection systems, see the two running neck and neck in 2021 as well.

2021 projected WAR, ZiPS
Lindor 5.1
Turner 4.7

2021 projected WAR, Steamer
Lindor 4.6
Turner 4.0

Here’s a closer look at why Turner could seriously challenge Lindor for NL East shortstop supremacy in 2021.

Turner continues to improve at the plate

Turner’s 73-game rookie season in 2016 was fantastic, as he hit .342/.370/.567 (142 OPS+) over 324 plate appearances. However, he was a league-average hitter the next two seasons, recording a collective 100 OPS+.

In 2019, Turner missed 39 games after fracturing his right index finger when he was hit by a pitch on a bunt attempt in early April, but he showed signs of improvement, increasing his hard-hit rate to 42.0% (38.0% from ’15-18) and posting a 116 OPS+.

He made further strides in 2020, producing a barrel (batted balls with the optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle, typically resulting in extra-base hits) on 9.5% of his batted balls (6.1% from 2015-19), as he hit balls in the sweet-spot zone (launch angle between 8-32 degrees) more frequently. Turner’s sweet-spot rate in 2020 was 34.2%, up from 30.2% across ’15-19.

Turner also decreased his strikeout rate by six percentage points from 2019 to ’20, tied for the sixth-largest drop among MLB qualifiers.

The biggest reason for that improvement? He became a tougher hitter with two strikes, lowering his whiff rate (misses / swings) to 14.0% on such pitches after posting a 21.1% mark in his first five years. Pitchers had an 11.9% putaway rate (strikeouts / two-strike pitches) against him in 2020, down from 16.1% across ’15-19, and only the Angels’ David Fletcher had more two-strike hits than Turner’s 35.

Turner finished the season with the highest xwOBA (a metric that uses quality of contact, plus real-world strikeout and walk numbers) of his career at .372, which ranked in the 91st percentile among big leaguers. His xwOBA was the third best among MLB shortstops.

Highest xwOBA for shortstops, 2020

  1. Corey Seager: .410
  2. Fernando Tatis Jr.: 404
  3. Trea Turner: .372
  4. José Iglesias: .370
  5. Tim Anderson: .347

Lindor ranked ninth in that group with a .333 xwOBA. Turner also outpaced him in xwOBA the previous season, .344 to .336.

Turner’s speed is elite

Lindor has solid speed, but he isn’t a burner. His Sprint Speed of 27.4 ft/sec was closer to the MLB average (27.0) than it was to Turner’s elite mark of 30.0, which tied for fourth among players with at least 10 competitive runs.

Turner’s Sprint Speed has ranked in the 99th or 100th percentile every year of his career, and he has led the Majors in Bolts (any run with a Sprint Speed of at least 30 ft/sec) in each of the past three seasons.

Turner has swiped 171 bases in 205 tries as a big leaguer, giving him the sixth-best success rate (83.4%) among players with at least 200 stolen-base attempts since 1951. He also has tallied 90 infield hits since 2016, the fifth most in MLB.

His speed has proven to be an incredibly valuable tool, evidenced by his baserunning runs above average figure since his rookie year.

Baserunning runs above average, 2016-20 (per FanGraphs)

  1. Billy Hamilton: 37.9
  2. Mookie Betts: 35.7
  3. Trea Turner: 30.7
  4. José Ramírez: 29.2
  5. Mike Trout: 27.1

(Lindor: Tied for 191st)

What about defense?

Defense is the one area Lindor has been able to create distance between himself and Turner.

Since Turner moved to shortstop full time in 2017, he’s tied for 136th in FanGraphs fielding runs above average, while Lindor ranks eighth overall in that span. There’s also a large divide in Defensive Runs Saved between the two, with Lindor recording +33 DRS and Turner -5 since 2017.

But Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric views Turner’s defense more favorably.

Related

Lindor still outranks him, with +36 OAA since 2017, but Turner has recorded +9 OAA in that stretch, tied for 11th among MLB shortstops.

There’s no denying Lindor’s prowess with the glove. He’s arguably the best defensive player at any position in the division. But the best NL East shortstop overall? He may have trouble taking that title from Turner in 2021.