LeBron got you down? Heyward and Strasburg are not your saviors

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Buster Olney had this to say in his column this morning:

The LeBron James Look-At-Me Tour underscored why watching young players like Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg has been so much fun this year: As great as their promise is, they do not carry themselves as if they’re bigger and more important than those around them, and the bet here is that this isn’t going to change.

Strasburg pitches again tonight, and I’m guessing you won’t see him clap a cloud of resin over his head, his arms outstretched toward the heavens, before he throws his first pitch.

I don’t believe people still say stuff like this.  You saw what Jason Heyward said about James last night.  He thought that spectacle was pretty neat.  But even if that was just a random tweet we shouldn’t take seriously (which it probably was), if we’ve learned anything over the past couple of decades of sports scandal and drama, it’s that projecting purity and goodness on young athletes is foolhardy, even if it is understandable.

As is the case with so many things, Bill James said it best, this time in in The New Bill
James Historical Baseball Abstract
nearly ten years ago:

When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right
away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is
as well as a supreme talent. Never pay any attention to those articles
or those descriptions. Albert Pujols is going through this now . . .
people who didn’t know Albert Pujols from Jack the Ripper six months ago
and have never talked to him more than six feet from his locker are
writing very sincerely about what an exceptional young man he is . . .
Sportswriters, despite their cynicism or because of it, desperately want
to believe in athletes as heroes, and will project their hopes onto
anyone who offers a blank slate. The problem with this is that, when the
player turns out to be human and fallible, people feel betrayed. It is a
disservice to athletes to try to make them more than they really are.

Albert Pujols may prove the exception to the rule, actually, but the point remains a good one: don’t assume anything other than humanity — both good and bad — on the part of young athletes, and don’t expect anything other than the excellent athletic performances they provide.  To do so asks too much and leads, inevitably, to disappointment.

Remember: people said all kinds of things about LeBron James until very, very recently. Who knows what they’ll say about Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg seven years from now?

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.