Justin Turner, Dodgers' secret weapon

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw looks like he's going to win an MVP award with one of the most epic seasons by a National League pitcher in recent memory.

But when you consider who the Dodgers' most valuable position player is, there's an extremely unlikely candidate to put into the mix.

Utility man Justin Turner is having a terrific season, one that's been arguably as valuable as that of Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez or any others among the team's notable names. He's among those responsible for the team holding the No. 4 spot in ESPN.com’s MLB Power Rankings.

A recent blog post critiquing Wins Above Replacement used Turner as its punchline for the reason to knock the stat. He was tied for the Dodgers lead in that stat a few days ago (with 3.3 WAR), though he's since been slightly surpassed by Puig and Gonzalez after not playing the last two days.

But when you consider that WAR is a tool designed to objectively evaluate a player's performance over a specific time period and then look at Turner's numbers, his value makes much more sense.

In a time in which offensive numbers are in significant decline, Turner's .326/.393/.449 slash line is impressive. If we lower the batting-title qualifier to 250 plate appearances, Turner ranks second in the NL in batting average and sixth in on-base percentage.

Turner had a rep as an at-bat battler in his time with the Mets. This year, he's winning a lot more of those battles. He ranks sixth in the NL in pitches per plate appearance and is slash-lining .330/.476/.433 in plate appearances lasting five pitches or longer, all way better than the major-league norms.

Good fortune has definitely played a role in some of this (his .396 batting average on balls in play is the highest in the majors). After hitting only .194 on ground balls for the Mets from 2011 to 2013, Turner is hitting .333 (36 for 108) on grounders this season.

But even if we removed a dozen groundball hits from his ledger to even things out, he’d still be hitting a solid .280 and we'd be ignoring his spike in line-drive rate from one usually in the low 20s to a solid 26 percent (he ranks 33rd in the NL, but is hitting them at a better rate than, among others, Buster Posey).

Turner has also handled one of the game's toughest jobs, pinch-hitting, with success, netting 10 hits and seven RBIs in 26 pinch-hit at-bats. That's one reason he rates first on the team in Win Probability Added, which measures context-based performance.

He's performed best in close games, hitting .331 in 139 at-bats in which the teams were tied or within one run of each other. His six go-ahead or game-tying hits in the seventh inning or later lead the team. Kershaw can thank him for the two-run eighth-inning homer he hit that gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead over the Padres, netting Kershaw his 15th win of the season.

Turner's batting value is supplemented by his doing other things just a little better than average, and a little can go a long way statistically over a long enough time period.

Turner is 6 for 7 stealing bases, takes extra bases at a modest rate, and avoids baserunning mishaps and hitting into double plays. He rates as the Dodgers fourth-best baserunner this season behind speedsters Dee Gordon, Carl Crawford and Chone Figgins.

Turner is also fielding a little above average, most notably when filling in for Juan Uribe. He has five Defensive Runs Saved in 393 innings at third base, which doesn't quite match Uribe’s contributions, but it is close enough so the drop off is small.

The Dodgers didn't play Turner in their last two wins over the Giants and he may be a bit of a forgotten man as the season winds down. But his season shouldn't be. He may not be as valuable as Kershaw, but he's exceeded expectations as much as anyone in the game.