In 2016, Justin Turner very well could have been a Gold Glove winner at third base. Without Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon in the league, the then 31-year-old likely would have added some hardware to the trophy case. Since then, the Dodgers’ third baseman has shown some signs of his age.
Fangraphs rates defense utilizing Ultimate Zone Rating, or UZR. A player with a UZR of more than 10 is entering into Gold Glove territory. Anything below 0 is below league average and trending to bad. Turner had a UZR of 9.2 in 2016 with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, he saw that drop off to -6.7 in 2019.
That alone warranted some changes to his game. Working with Rob Hill, Turner adopted some of the practices of Driveline Academy, a popular destination for Dodgers’ pitchers this past offseason. Manager Dave Roberts talked about a few of the things he worked on.
He’s been doing a lot of plyo balls and strengthening his arm. This is as good as I’ve seen his arm since I’ve been here. Defensively, he’s moving to his right considerably better as good as I’ve seen since I’ve been here as well. He’s playing deeper, which he’s gotten to be comfortable with. I think that helps the metrics. He’s just done a really nice job for us.
The idea to play back game from third base coach Dino Ebel after seeing JT’s arm strength change. That allows his more time to react to balls hit to third, likely resulting in the uptick in defense we are seeing. And it couldn’t come at a batter time, as the Dodgers need all of the defense they can get right now.
Turner ranked dead last among qualified third basemen in UZR and just 13th in defensive runs saved last year. That is quite a fall from his 2016 numbers. But if the Dodgers hope to win it all this year, JT will need to continue to turn up the heat at third base. He turns 36-years-old this November.