It’s Aug. 4 and a struggling Trea Turner comes up to bat against the Kansas City Royals in the bottom of the second inning. The South Florida native, after having signed an enormous 11-year, $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, was in the midst of one of his worst seasons to date.
To his surprise, the fans greeted him with a standing ovation. And what’s happened since, many around Major League Baseball just couldn’t have imagined.
The Phillies are headed back to the postseason with Turner, a product of Boynton Beach, entrenched in the lineup, Philadelphia secured the National League’s top wild-card slot on Tuesday night.
Turner is widely considered one of the best shortstops in baseball. He’s a two-time All-Star, a former batting champion, a Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. His consistent performance landed him the massive contract that made him the second-highest-paid shortstop in the game. And he joined a star-studded lineup with the Phillies that made the World Series the previous year.
His skills were on display during his World Baseball Classic run in Miami, as well, prior to the start of the MLB season. In the WBC, he led Team USA to a finals appearance. And after his performance, upon joining Philadelphia for Spring Training, many dubbed him one of the top NL MVP candidates.
But, that wasn’t the case. Prior to Aug. 4, Turner was hitting a measly .235 with a 76 wRC+, meaning he was 24% worse than league average in terms of offense. The player who was known for hitting so well, was in one of the worst slumps of his career.
It all reached a tipping point on Aug. 2 when his offensive struggles transferred over to the defensive side of the ball. Turner, typically a reliable defender at short, made a crucial error against the Miami Marlins. He whiffed on a routine ground ball in the 11th inning, which allowed the Marlins to tie and eventually win the game.
After the loss, Turner looked defeated in a post-game interview, saying “disappointed. I feel like, obviously, I’m the reason why we lost that game.”
The interview led a popular Philadelphia radio producer of SportRadio WIP, Jack Fritz, to tweet out, “postgame interview was a tough watch, he’s in the cages until midnight. Just think he’s lost. A standing O on Friday would go a long way IMO.”
Philadelphia fans, who are typically known for their ruthlessness, felt so bad for Turner that they collectively reposted the tweet and shared it on all platforms. This eventually led to the standing ovation that occurred on Aug. 4.
And after the standing ovation, Turner has slashed .351/.396/.714 through Sept. 20. Turner’s wRC+ sat at 193 during that time span, a drastic change from his 76 wRC+ from March 30-Aug. 3.
His month of August was arguably the best month of his career, posting nine home runs. He even tied the franchise record for consecutive games with a home run at five.
Turner’s teammate, Nick Castellanos, another South Florida native and resident of Davie, told reporters after the standing ovation that, “he needs to feel welcome. I know what that’s like. And I think what that standing ovation does is like, hey, like, we have your back.”
Turner concurred. He even went so far as to show his appreciation by buying billboards around town thanking the fans.
“Playing better, feeling better, it’s been more normal. … And you know the ovations kickstarted it,” he said. “And making those adjustments and competing and having fun.”
Those adjustments he made were simple, according to Mark DeRosa, his manager during the World Baseball Classic, by staying within his mechanics. Two of the biggest differences in Turner’s turnaround have been making better decisions and doing more damage.
Prior to the ovation, Turner’s chase rate was at 39% one of the highest figures in his career, but since then it has dropped down to 35%. His strike zone swing percentage went up from 74% to 81%. He’s swinging at less pitches outside the zone, and swinging at the pitches inside and making pitchers pay.
He’s even hitting the ball harder with his hard-hit percentage up from 40% to 47%. Whether it was the ovation or just a matter of growing comfortable, Turner has turned into the player who earned the second-biggest contract for shortstops in all of baseball.
Turner and the Phillies will begin their road back to the World Series next week.