Eric Gagne retires

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Erig Gagne 2.jpgGiven his release from the Dodgers even though he accepted a minor league assignment it’s no surprise that Eric Gagne has decided to retire.

For about three years there — 2002 to 2004 — Gagne was the best closer in baseball, going 152 for 158 in save opportunities, including a perfect 55 for 55 in 2003. He won the Cy Young Award because of that.  Elbow surgery came in 2005 and back surgery in 2006, and that was more or less that for the guy as an elite player. Since leaving the Dodgers after the 2006 season he bounced from Texas to Boston to Milwaukee to the Can-Am League, never able to recover top form.

Gagne was named as a Kirk Radomski customer in the Mitchell Report. He spoke about his PED use to some extent with the Los Angeles Times last year, voicing remorse but declining to go into details because he didn’t want to implicate others.  His PED use also implicates teams to some degree, as the Mitchell Report noted that the Red Sox had scouted Gagne at one point, writing “steroids is the issue.”

And it remains the issue with Gagne insofar as career assessment is concerned. His best years were all about power, all came prior to the advent of steroids testing and ended at basically the same time. Yes, injuries killed him, but his inability to take whatever it was he was taking back in the day likely didn’t help matters.

I enjoyed watching Gagne shut things down during his brief but dominant
prime, but that was a different time in baseball history, both temporally and philosophically speaking.

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.