Former NC State athlete and current Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner has been swinging a hot bat lately, sporting an AVG/OBP/SLG slashline of .431/.456/.723 over his last 15 games. He also has blinding speed, which he used to hit an inside-the-park home run on Sept. 3 in a game against Philadelphia. For the 2020 season, Turner is currently in the top five in OPS among qualified major leaguers.
So, what is the deal with Turner’s newfound prowess in the batter’s box? In previous seasons, he has primarily been known as a speed demon on the basepaths. He swiped at least 30 bags each season between 2016 and 2019, and only reached a batting average above .300 once in that timespan, when he played only 73 games in 2016.
The answer can be found in MLB.com’s Baseball Savant section, which focuses on analytics and splits for each player. Per Baseball Savant, Turner’s batting average on breaking balls was .229 in 2019. In this 2020 season, Turner has hit .364 against breaking balls. Turner’s whiff percentage, or the amount of swings and misses divided by total pitches seen, is also down, dropping 5.8% against breaking balls compared to last season.
Turner is not only making contact more often on breaking balls, he’s also hitting them further, slugging .568 against breaking balls, which is almost .200 more than he slugged last season against those pitches.
This improvement goes back further than 2019. Between 2016 and 2018, Turner batted .278 against just curveballs and sliders, two of the most common breaking pitches. This figure is serviceable, to be fair, but far away from the .417 average he is putting up against the same pitches this season.
With all this improvement in his approach to the breaking ball, the usual swing-and-miss pitch, it makes sense that Turner is currently leading the majors in batting average. Though the MLB season is nearing a close, Turner is showing no signs of slowing either his progression as a hitter or his trademark sprint speed.