Trea Turner has transformed into one of the best hitters in baseball. Lacking projected power when he was drafted 13th in 2014 — Kiley McDaniel cited his positives as 10-12 home runs with a .420 SLG the following winter — Turner went on to become much more than the slash-and-burn guy many envisioned. His last three seasons have been particularly impressive. Playing with the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, he posted a sparkling .316/.364/.514 line with a 139 wRC+. In addition, his right-handed stroke has produced 87 home runs over the last four non-COVID campaigns.
Turner — now with the Philadelphia Phillies after signing an 11-year, $300 million contract in December, and currently playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic — talked about hitting before a recent spring training game.
David Laurila: Let’s start with one of my favorite icebreaker questions: Do you consider hitting to be more of an art or a science?
Trea Turner: “I think it’s more of an art, but we try to use science to quantify it. Sometimes guys have good swings, but then you get into a game and you can’t necessarily hit. The game is more of an art than a cradle.”
Laurila: Why some players with good swings can’t hit games?
Turner: “I think there are limitless answers to that. I remember talking to one of my coaches in college and he said some people are swingers and some people are hitters. There is a difference. To me, hitting is being able to make adjustments and hit different pitches. And if you don’t have your best swing that day, you still have to be able to get hits and execute. The best hitters can figure it out along the way.”
Laura: At what point in your life did you go from swinger to hitter?
Turner: “Oh, I was never a swinger. I’ve been fighting since day one. I wasn’t a natural hitter. I don’t just wake up and get in the box like some guys, and I can do it naturally. I’ve worked on it a lot, all my life.”
Laura: Even at a young age?
Turner: “I mean, I was a good player when I was younger, but I never had power. I got a house at school. When I was younger I couldn’t even catch the ball. I played a lot, so the guys were much bigger and stronger than me. I was hitting the ball the other way just because that was all I could do. I was grinding.”
Laura: How old were you when you started being able to catch the ball?
Turner: “Oh, I don’t know. Probably not until I was in high school? Maybe more like 12-13 years old, or… I remember my dad telling me he’d give me a dollar if I could catch the ball in a game. But yeah, I’d say it wasn’t until high school that I really started shooting the ball.
“Now, I think my strength is pulling the ball, which is kind of funny looking back. But as a player you want to use all the fields. The old saying that you want to hit the ball where it’s thrown still holds true today.”
Laura: How much of the power you’ve developed comes from added strength and how much from optimizing your swing?
Turner: “Both of them. I’m definitely stronger now than when I was younger, but I think it’s probably more about the swing. You gain strength as you grow, but you also learn your body, you learn movements, you learn patterns. So it’s more about making good use of everything you have. Sequencing is a big thing now. Making sure everything is in order is something I’ve been building on for the last four or five years.”
Laura: Was that gradual or was there a defining moment where you made an adjustment and something started clicking?
Turner: “They’ve been a couple for me. In college, I started doing leg kicks, which helped me start to get a little more behind it. I didn’t hit a ton of homers in the minors, but then in 2016 when I got called up, I hit a bunch and I kind of realized I could do it at a high level. This was another step. And then, in 2019 when I was working with K-Long [hitting coach Kevin Long], I figured out how to do it a little bit the other way around — not just on the sideline, but all over the court. I don’t have as much power as a Kyle Schwarber — guys like him — but being able to tap into it a little bit more has made me better.”
Laura: Has the swing path changed?
Turner: “I would say he has a little. But I’ve always tried to have a flat swing because I feel like that gives me the most margin for error and the most chance for success. Having a flatter swing allows me to hit a lot of different pitches, and that’s always been a goal. Sometimes you pinch a little. Your swing changes, your body changes a little bit, and I’m always working on that. But yeah, I’m just trying to have that flat swing.”
Laura: How much do you look at data when working in the cage?
Turner: “Never. I’m not an exit velo guy. I’m never at the top of those charts. That’s not what it’s about for me. It’s about hitting. I could roll over balls at 150 miles an hour and my exit velo would go up, and people would tell me I’m a good hitter, but I prefer to stay inside a ball and hit a soft line down the center for a strike. I think that’s where the art and science get mixed up. I think it’s more about art and a little less for science.”
Laura: That being said, is there any science that has helped you become a better player?
Turner: “I like to compare good and bad swings in terms of body mechanics, like what triggered first and what didn’t. Here, as well as in Los Angeles, they have the technology where you can see all these things. Well, I like to compare swings, but at the end of the day it’s about making consistent contact on the barrel and not necessarily hitting certain numbers or certain angles.”
Laura: Do you basically chase fastballs up the middle and adjust from there, or is your approach more nuanced?
Turner: “I’d like not to talk about it… But yeah, for every pitcher you have a game plan. Different guys have different pitches, different arm angles, and different darts, so you have to adapt a little bit to the pitcher. You can’t just go there with a one-size-fits-all mindset. I take a lot of things into account.”
Laura: Any final thoughts on the hit?
Turner: “I like art versus science. This is a good discussion because there really isn’t a right answer. But I think sometimes the art of taking hits is lost. Everybody wants to walk, and there’s launch angle, exit — you get all these numbers on FanGraphs because of those things — but then you’ve got guys like Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew, guys who could just hit. There is an art to it. I think it’s a nice part of the game.”
Previous interviews on “Talks Hitting” can be found via these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman , Michael Chavis , Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haines, Hassell III, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgarly Martinez, Don , Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke V oit, Anthon y Volpe, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis