Dusty Baker out as Cincinnati Reds manager

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Breaking: Dusty Baker is out as Reds manager. The Associated Press had the first reports, and then the always reliable John Fay confirmed:

We did not see this coming. Especially given that, just two days ago, Reds GM Walt Jocketty said that he did not think that there was any question that Baker would be back given that he was under contract through 2014. My guess: this was an ownership call.

Baker was 509-463 in six years as the Reds manager. He led them to two NL Central titles and, with this year’s wild card, he took them to the playoffs three times. But Baker’s performance in the playoffs has been harshly criticized by some in Cincinnati, and the Reds have yet to win a playoff series under him. They are 2-7 in the playoffs in that time. Of course the team had missed the playoffs for a dozen years running before he got there.

For Baker, you wonder if this is the end of the managing road. On the one hand, he obviously still knows what he’s doing, continues to maintain the confidence of his players and, based on the fact that the Reds have won 90+ games in three of the past four years, he’s obviously effective. On the other hand he’s 64 years-old and you wonder if he wants to start anew someplace else.

For everyone else: another plum manager’s job is open. Both Washington and Cincinnati are ready-made “win now” jobs that should attract a number of good candidates.

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.