Welcome to part five of our annual Dodgers season grades series. Yes, these are coming out still in 2022, but here we are. Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked back, recapped, and graded our boys in blue position by position while identifying areas they can continue to work on next season.
Next position up: third base.
Should Dodgers Replace Justin Turner at Third? How To Get Most From JT Next Season | Dodgers Grades
2021 Grade: B
2020 Grade: B+
Third base is by far the easiest position of this series. Justin Turner took down 1,173.2 of 1,452 innings at the hot corner in 2021. Chris Taylor had the second most with 81 innings. So yeah… big drop off. JT played the 2021 season as a 36-year-old and was well on the way to his best season as a big leaguer through the first three-plus months of the year. At the all-star break, he was hitting .305 with 29 extra base hits, 50 RBI, and a .889 OPS over 84 games. He was named a National League All-Star for the second time and it was looking like the Dodgers made a brilliant move in signing him to a 2-year deal with a team option in the previous offseason.
Then the second half happened.
As the season resumed, Turner’s production eroded. For the most part, he stayed healthy, tying a career-high with 151 games played. But, over 67 second half games, his batting average slipped from .305 to .241 and his on-base percentage fell by more than 70 points. A late season surge had fans hopeful for the postseason, but the wheels absolutely fell off in October.
The veteran had just 4 hits in 34 at-bats and only one run batted in (on a solo home run) before suffering a hamstring injury in the NLCS that ended his season a few games early.
Altogether, the Dodgers got a solid season out of Turner in the first year of that 2-year, $34 million deal, but below the surface, things are a bit more troubling.
In 2021, JT was slower than ever, placing 484th out of 557 players in sprint speed (technically he had an incremental uptick from 2020, jumping from 25.4 feet per second to 25.5). Woosh. His defense continued to decline with -3 Outs Above Average and -2 Defensive Runs Saved. And he’ll be playing 2022 as a 37 year old.
Where can Turner improve?
To his benefit, it’s widely expected that MLB will implement the universal DH for the upcoming season, which will help keep his still-above-average bat in the lineup while getting him off his feet more often. However, a major problem for the Dodgers is that there are not many exceptional third base options on the roster.
Chris Taylor looks uncomfortable at the position and will be much more needed elsewhere. Zach McKinstry played well at the hot corner over a small sample size but needs to hit to stay in the big leagues. Edwin Rios should be healthy and back on the roster in 2022, but he’s never been known as much of a defensive standout in his pro career. And he too needs to prove he can hit big league pitching after a shoulder injury ended his 2021 season in May.
JT remains the best option for the Dodgers at 3B. And that could be a problem in the long run.