Underrated Loretta retires to join Pads front office

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After playing 15 seasons in the majors Mark Loretta retired this week and immediately joined the Padres’ front office as a special assistant to the baseball operations staff.
Loretta has lived in San Diego since having the best stretch of his career as the Padres’ starting second baseman from 2003-2005 and also knows new general manager Jed Hoyer from their season together with the Red Sox in 2006, so it was an easy decision:

When you say the word retirement, it sounds like your retiring from life. I’m looking at this as the next step. I’m interested in how teams market themselves and business development. We don’t have anything set in stone. Jed is allowing me to experience and learn a whole different side of things. I’m looking at this year as an open-ended situation. I think that it will allow me to make decision on what I want to do.

In other words Loretta will get a taste of front office life this season and then decide if he wants to stay behind the scenes or pursue another on-field career as a hitting coach or manager. As for his playing career, Loretta was often perceived as a super-utility man because of his defensive versatility, but he was more than that as a two-time All-Star and career .295 hitter who walked nearly as often (555) as he struck out (605).
In fact, since the mound was lowered in 1969 only 12 middle infielders have logged at least 5,000 career plate appearances with a higher on-base percentage than Loretta at .360. The complete list: Joe Morgan, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch, Willie Randolph, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Bobby Grich, Luis Castillo, Craig Biggio, Lou Whitaker, and Nomar Garciaparra. Some pretty decent company for a guy most casual fans have probably never even heard of.

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.