For the love of the game? Eh, not so much

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Dirk Hayhurst, currently a farmhand at Durham and, of course, the author of “The Bullpen Gospels” and the upcoming “Out of My League,” hates to burst your bubble, but he does not play baseball for the love of the game:

So, dear baseball purist, you ask why then do I play? … Because I enjoy it more than the alternative. Because I’ve spent my life training to do it and walking away to another profession is easier said than done. Because I need the healthcare benefits (as crappy as they are). Because there are certain perks this job has that others don’t. Because making it to the top sets you up for the rest of your life, if you’re good enough to get there.

Admit it, none of these answers sound as satisfactory, noble, or fulfilling as love, do they? Some even sound selfish. But they are the real reasons. Real, boring, reasons John Forgerty wouldn’t dare pen a lyric too. Furthermore, if you took even a third of them away, I would have to seriously reevaluate why I keep doing this job.

It’s not a cranky rant. It’s a realistic take that I am certain Hayhurst is not alone in having among men who play baseball for a living.  That “love of the game” stuff is mostly for us fans. It’s a job to these guys. At least those of them who haven’t made millions doing it.  I see that on the face of the non-prospects when I go to Columbus Clippers game.  I’ve heard from other writers who talk to journeymen ballplayers that the sentiment is common.

But rarely is it put as well as Hayhurst puts it here.  And, contrary to what you might expect, it makes me appreciate these guys way more than if they were all “rah-rah, I heart baseball” about 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.