Why didn’t Josh Hamilton just stay at third?

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There’s a lot of chatter today about the play that resulted in Josh Hamilton breaking his arm yesterday.  A lot of it — most notably from Buster Olney — involves questioning his head-first slide.  I’m not too impressed with that line of thinking. Lots of guys — most guys, in fact — slide head first.  Maybe it’s not ideal, and maybe it’s not what should be taught to kids, but it’s certainly accepted now, and it’s not like you change those sorts of habits.

The real question I have is why Hamilton was even going in the first place.  And not just because it seemed like the wrong kind of ball to take that kind of chance on. Hamilton actually agreed with that in real time and publicly criticized his third base coach over it after the game (“I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to do this. Something’s going to happen.’ But I listened to my coach”).  Throwing the base coach under the bus like that didn’t reflect particularly well on Hamilton, but what reflects worse on Hamilton is going along with the bad call anyway.

Josh Hamilton is the reigning AL MVP.  He’s the centerpiece of the Texas Rangers offense.  While you don’t want players shirking the authority of the coaches, if the player is a superstar with the baseball instincts of Josh Hamilton and, if as Hamilton said was the case here, he has a strong feeling that something bad is going to happen on the play, the player should substitute his judgment for that of the base coach. Ron Washington isn’t going to put Josh Hamilton in the dog house if he ignores the coach on a play like that.  Young players aren’t going to henceforth ignore the coach’s instructions.  Hamilton should have gone with his gut and stuck at third.

Or, if he simply felt that he had no choice in the matter and had to do what the coach said, he sure as hell shouldn’t have come out and criticized the guy after the fact.  I mean, if you’re going to follow military protocol in following orders, you should probably follow military protocol in not questioning them later.

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.