Is baseball experiencing an outbreak of anxiety disorders, or is it something else?

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The Wall Street Journal takes note of all of the anxiety cases this year:

Three professional baseball players have landed on the disabled list
this season for a problem they can’t ice, bandage or have surgically
repaired: anxiety . . . Baseball’s anxious include Detroit pitcher
Dontrelle Willis, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene and
Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, who all spent weeks on the
disabled list spring for mental-health issues. Mr. Willis, who returned
to the lineup in May, was placed on disabled status again in mid-June
for anxiety.

I’m not sure what to make of all of the anxiety problems this year, but
part of me thinks that not all of them are technically social anxiety
disorders. Rather, I suspect that they’re all lumped together as
“anxiety disorders” because Zack Greinke sort of made the term “anxiety
disorder” acceptable in baseball circles by going through and
subsequently overcoming what he went though, whereas depression or any
number of other specific neurosis remain new and scary in this
historically-conservative world. Don’t get me wrong; by all accounts,
Votto and Khalil Greene’s situations were serious, and I’m not
dismissing them. I’m just saying that, based on what they’ve revealed
about their problems, things like depression or any number of other
neurosis seem plausible too. Ultimately my point here isn’t to diagnose
anything (I’m not qualified to do that). It’s just to suggest that
maybe what’s happening is a greater willingness among baseball players
to be up front about psychological problems in general as opposed to
their being some sudden and inexplicable outbreak of social anxiety
disorder. If so, that’s a very good thing.

That said, I and others have voiced some skepticism about Willis,
mostly because (a) even after his alleged diagnosis he said he felt
great and that his only problem was that he couldn’t pitch; and (b) the
“anxiety” only seemed to come up when the Tigers needed to move Willis
off the active roster to bring in a productive player. I think there
have been a lot of disabled list shenanigans this year–amazingly,
Boston’s Dice-K got injured at just the perfect time to solve the Red
Sox’ roster logjam — and it wouldn’t surprise me if Willis’ were
another example of it.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.