Baseball fans have seen Jim Abbott pitch and field with one arm, and in 1945 there was Pete Gray who batted with one arm. There is no comparison from the feats of Abbott and Gray to Trea Turner who played with eight healthy fingers in 2019, but what Turner pulled off was rather impressive given what he had to overcome. What the young shortstop does in the 60-game MLB season in 2020 will be a new chapter.
Never one who to complain, Turner of the Washington Nationals played most of the 2019 season with just eight healthy fingers which was quite the trick considering he finished the season batting .298 with 19 home runs.
As you can see in the photo (above), Turner was all smiles after his surgery to repair his previously non-displaced fracture in his index finger on his right throwing hand that never healed properly after it was broken along with his middle finger in the first week of the 2019 season. Turner’s right-hand sustained the injury on a hit-by-pitch against the Phillies while Turner was attempting a bunt.
In total, Turner missed 39 games on the IL and returned quicker than he should have. As they say, it usually takes 50 at-bats to get your timing back, and Turner was wrestling with his timing while also feeling comfortable holding the bat. But the fact is that he was only gripping the bat with his left hand and two fingers and his thumb on his right hand as his former teammate Anthony Rendon joked at the time, “He has eight fingers right now.” What he accomplished was kind of miraculous.
Ten games after his return from the IL, Turner’s batting average dropped from .357 to .238, and his once promising season where he was picked by some analysts to be an MVP candidate looked like a totally disastrous season in the making not only for Turner but also for his team that was in total disarray in mid-May of 2019.
If the former first-round draft pick’s struggles continued at the plate in May 2019, there was no telling what would have happened. As MASN TV analyst F.P. Santangelo would often say, “the team goes as Trea goes.” Turner is the catalyst. Many times during the season Santangelo flashed up incredible stats of what the Win-results were when Turner scored at least one-run. How’s about 51-20 in 2019 when Turner scored at least one-run. That is a .704 winning percentage and if Turner kept up that pace for a full-season that would equate to 114 wins.
Last year, Turner was also struggling with his throws on fielding plays as he made some errant throws as he got used to throwing the ball without the full feeling in two of his fingers in his throwing hand.
The shortstop who hit the walk-off on “Opening Weekend” against the Mets for the first Nats win of the 2019 season was zapped of his power as he acclimated to his 8-finger grip. He persevered and finished the season with a strong .298 batting average and an .850 OPS and a +3.5 WAR from Fangraphs. From May 28 to the end of the season, Turner hit .306 with an .871 OPS which is All-Star and Silver Slugger quality for a shortstop. If you add back to the that the first three games of the 2019 season, the numbers were even better. Turner was off to a hot start before he broke those fingers in the fourth game of the season.
Extrapolate some numbers for the ¼-season missed, and you can easily get to a value closer to a +5.0 WAR with the time missed and the devaluation from those rehabbing games in May that eroded his stats. A +5.0 WAR would have put him behind only Rendon in top team WAR for position players although even with his actual +3.5 he was finished as the third most valuable Nats position player behind just Rendon and Juan Soto.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) October 31, 2019
Privately, Turner’s teammates knew he was “taking one” for the team when he came back quickly and too soon for his own good from the injured-list to the struggling Nats who as you know were an abysmal 19-31 after play on May 23rd. Publicly, nobody in the clubhouse talked about Turner’s fingers until September when the timing was right for Turner to do so. Maybe it was a weight lifted off of his shoulders that much of the story of his finger(s) was out there. His teammates and hitting coach Kevin Long spoke to what Turner endured. After the postseason was done, Turner actually showed the world on MLB Network what those mangled fingers looked like from a side view as he could not fully bend that index finger on his right hand.
“The season’s done, I’m good now,” Turner said after the World Series win on MLB Network. “We’re going to figure it out.”
“Figure it out” they did, as Turner had a surgery with a hand specialist in mid-November. He had consultations with surgeons in Houston and New York. The video embedded in the Tweet (above) by the MLB Network showed the fingers that Trea demo’d for the world to see that he could not bend his index finger fully, and he had the corrective surgery on that index finger performed by Dr. Michelle Carlson who is an orthopedic surgeon specializing on hands and fingers at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City overlooking the East River in Manhattan. They did a 3-D scan of the finger and discovered a bone spur in the knuckle as well as the tendon had fused onto the bone. He immediately felt that he got range of motion back with the finger.
In 2018, Turner posted a +4.8 WAR, and it looked like 2019 was going to be his breakout season. In a way it was as his level of “clutch” included three walk-off hits during the 2019 season which helped propel the Nats to the postseason. Without those three wins, who knows, but Turner found a way to help his team. He did not steal enough bases for some, and he explained why he sometimes will not steal a base in order to open holes for his teammates as Turner is held on-base and wreaking havoc on the pitchers timing. It seemed to work as his ex-teammate Anthony Rendon still drove in Turner 37 times which was the most of any teammate and that factored in Turner only playing in 122 regular season games.
The future is certainly bright for Trea Turner, and he was an integral part of the 2019 World Series championship season.
“Only took 7 months to get this finger fixed but now my ring will fit better!” Turner wrote on Instagram.
Fangraphs was projecting a conservative +4.1 WAR for Turner’s 2020 season if there was a full-season. He also received a sizable raise in his second year of arbitration as a Super-Two to $7.45 million on an annualized basis. He is under team control for 2020 and two more years after that. Turner, Juan Soto, and Victor Robles now make up the young core on this team. With Ryan Zimmerman‘s opt-out, it is now Turner who has the most team seniority on the infield.
“He’s tremendously important to the [Nats],” Rendon said last year. “He has so many freakin’ talents. He can hit for power; he can play both sides of the ball. When he was out for that 1 1/2 months, we definitely missed him.”
Freakin’ talents for sure, and we look forward to a healthy and productive 2020 season for Trea Turner!
Turner foreshadowed at the Nats WinterFest that he might decide to continue to hit with 9 fingers because it worked so well in 2019. He said he can grip the bat with 10 fingers. If that is indeed the case and the right index finger is healthy, then Turner has the option of swinging with 9 or 10 fingers.
“I’ve started hitting,” Turner said at the WinterFest. “Ten fingers are good. We will see how I play, if I don’t like it and go back to nine [fingers] if I don’t like it because I felt like last year went pretty good. Definitely in a much better spot than last year.”
The assembled media laughed when Turner said he might go back to nine fingers and he was not joking. One theory is that nine fingers forces you to keep a looser grip on the bat. Some players grip the bat so tight they turn it to “saw dust”. Assumptions have been made that Turner’s surgery was not successful based on gripping the bat with nine fingers, and according to Trea that is not the case. Stay positive.