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Digging into Justin Turner’s up-and-down start with the Blue Jays

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Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton - USA Today
Mitch Bannon
1 month ago
In April, Justin Turner was the entire Blue Jays offence. He posted an .887 OPS in the opening month, bashing four homers and a team-leading 15 RBI. The offseason signing looked like maybe the best deal in baseball. Then, he fell off a cliff.
The 39-year-old hit .111 in May with a dreadfully low .349 OPS. Turner was worst among all qualified hitters in batting average last month and better than only Cedric Mullins in the OPS department.
What happened? And are there any signs of an early-June rebound?
A lot has to go wrong for a regular to hit .111 in a month, but Turner’s biggest issue was a cratering of production against the fastball. His average exit velocity dropped from 90.3 MPH to 84.0 MPH against heaters from April to May, his hard-hit rate on the pitch went down 25%, and his expected slugging percentage plummeted from .493 to .338. His exit velo against off-speed and breaking stuff actually went up in May, but it was more than offset by his tank against the hard stuff — especially when he faces fastballs over 68% of the time.
Turner’s fastball weakness was something the Blue Jays (and the rest of baseball) knew when Toronto signed him. Dating back to the beginning of last year, the veteran’s average exit velocity of 89.4 MPH against heaters ranked 161st of 213 players who saw at least 2000 fastballs. His slugging percentage ranked 152nd.
But Turner can still be a productive player if he’s not crushing fastballs — he had an .800 OPS and drove in 96 runs last year. It’s the mid-season fall-off that’s the real issue.
As I noted above, Turner’s production against heaters tanked in the second month of 2024 and it’s a similar trend we saw last season. The veteran’s average exit velocity against heaters was 92 MPH in the first half of 2023, dropping to below 90 PMH in the final three months of the year and cratering at 86.3 MPH in September.
His season splits reflect that change: first half OPS of .824, second half of .764.
The difference so far in 2024: that drop-off came in May not July.
The lazy explanation here is age. Turner is 39 years old and has played over 1500 games at the MLB level. Even the best hitters in baseball see production against fastballs wane as they get close to 40. And, playing basically every day takes a bigger toll on the 40-year-olds than the guys at age 23, explaining the in-season drop-off, too. That lazy explanation may, honestly, be the right one. Turner’s average swing speed from April to May dropped almost a full mile per hour.
Aside from something in Turner’s mechanics going horrifically wrong in May, which I don’t believe to be the case, the only other explanation is injury, or in this case illness. Turner missed three games in the middle of the month with an illness that hit several players, and the lingering effects of that could explain the slower swing speeds and worse production.
A bug is something you can certainly bounce back from, and the first few days of June make it seem like Turner’s rebound is coming. But that hope ends at the surface-level stats.
Yes, Turner is hitting .400 with a .904 OPS in the first four games of June. But the fastball-hitting issue hasn’t gone away. The 39-year-old’s average exit has fallen even further against fastballs so far this month and he doesn’t have a single hard-hit heater yet in June.
Even if the first few games of June make it seem like April Turner is back, he needs to start connecting with fastballs if the Jays are going to capture that orange lightning in a bottle again.

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