Trea Turner Needs a Mental Break After Latest Bad Game Costs Phillies
After the Phillies’ 9-8 loss in 12 innings to the Miami Marlins Wednesday, a game that never should have even reached extra innings, let alone three of them, Trea Turner immediately went to the batting cage to continue to figure out what the hell is wrong.
He paused for a few minutes to talk to the media in town. They asked him the hard questions and Turner, always accountable, answered them. He then went right back to the cage and started working again.
If as you watch Turner consistently flail at pitches and make too many defensive mistakes and chalk it up to him not caring, not trying, and simply resting on his $300 million contract, you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s obvious he cares. It’s obvious this is eating him up inside. It’s obvious the sport of baseball is beating him up mentally.
It’s a sport that can do that. With so much failure built into it, it’s easy to let any failure weigh on you.
We heard Nick Castellanos talk about this after hitting the game-winning home run Tuesday. Talking about how he takes a bad game or a several bad games home and paces around his living room obsessing about them. When you are among the best baseball players in the world, it’s easy to be obsessive, because you know what it took to get you to the show, and you don’t ever want anything to take you away from it once you get there.
Just think what former Phillies like Jean Segura, Corey Dickerson and now Josh Harrison are enduring today after being released at the trade deadline for failing to meet their expectations. Those are three players with long, successful careers at the highest level of the sport, who are now out of work and based on their performances this year, might not get another gig.
That quickly it can be taken away from you, which is why these players obsess so much. A guy like Segura, who was traded to Cleveland at the deadline and then immediately released without ever leaving Miami, is being paid by the Guardians $2 million for the rest of this season, $8.5 million in 2024 and a $2 million buyout for 2025 NOT to play for them – all so they can save about $9 million after getting out from behind a contract to Josh Bell, who was traded to Miami for Segura and a prospect.
No one is worried about Segura being able to live comfortably. Hell, any one of us would love to be paid $12.5 million to not do any work, but when the sport is your life every day for so many years, the thought of it being pulled out from under you in a finger snap weighs heavy.
It was less than a year ago that Segura was a cult hero in Philadelphia, providing some playoff memories that will never be forgotten in this town. He became so beloved so quickly that as soon as he was released by Cleveland, fans started begging on social media for the Phillies to bring him home. One even went so far as to yell it from the stands in Miami to Phillies manager Rob Thomson:
A Phillies fan in Miami to Rob Thomson just now:
“Bring back Segura!”
— Alex Coffey (@byalexcoffey) August 2, 2023
Never mind that Segura has been worth -1.8 WAR for the Marlins this season. Or that his slash line for the season is .219/.277/.279 for a .556 OPS and an abysmal OPS+ of 54 (League average is 100).
And while that would be purely a sentimental move by the Phillies, and not one that would help the club, it’s something a lot of fans would prefer to see right now than watching Turner do what he’s doing.
Now, Turner is at the start of an 11-year contract paying him an amount of money that only a choice few players in the sport have ever had guaranteed to them. So, no, he’s not in danger of losing a job like the aforementioned expats. Not even the Mets would pay a guy that much money to not play for them (although, I admit, I honestly paused for a few minutes before typing this sentence because, my instinct was the Mets are such a long-running circus that I had to think about if they actually would do something so ridiculous).
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a mental burden on him right now that he’s having the worst season of his baseball life and can’t figure out why. And with each passing day that he struggles more, that pressure mounts and the burden becomes heavier.
Here’s the thing, Thomson always likes to defer to the cliche when his players are struggling that they are “trying to do too much.” It’s a very simplified way of telling us they are either overthinking, or not thinking with baseball IQ and relying on athletic impulse. Either or, it’s those things that are often the snipers that take down an athlete’s performance level in professional sports. While there is the occasional pro who is lazy and doesn’t want to put in the work, who somehow made it to the highest level on their God-given talent alone, 99 percent of players who make it to the top league in the world in their sport are impacted by one of those two aforementioned factors when they are struggling.
And while fans might be tired of hearing that phraseology, the reality is that is exactly what’s happening with Turner right now.
Sometimes, instead of overworking or overthinking or putting so much pressure on yourself to perform, you’d be better suited to just step back and do anything else. Every athlete is different, so far be it from me to play sports psychologist here for Turner, but it might be the best thing at this point.
It doesn’t sound like the Phillies think the same way as me. After the game Wednesday, Thomson said that although on a human level he cares about Turner and worries about him a little bit because of what he’s going through, but insisted he has to continue to put his nose to the grindstone to claw his way out of his struggles.
“We just sat him the other day,” Thomson told reporters after the game. “I mean, he has to fight out of it. Maybe that’s harsh to say, I don’t know. But he will. I firmly believe that.”
Still, maybe a series off is what he needs. The Phillies host the woeful Kansas City Royals this weekend and could probably get away with not having him in the lineup. It won’t help matters that fans are likely to boo him with every non-productive at bat, so don’t make him have to face it right away. Let him clear his head. Let him breathe.
Of course, an argument can be made that the Royals are the kind of team that has such poor pitching that this is an opportunity for him to gain some confidence back if he can put together a few good games. But what happens if he doesn’t? Does it get even worse? I would argue that his situation is pretty delicate right now.
In a game where the Phillies bullpen couldn’t preserve three different leads that the offense provided for them, Turner blamed himself for the loss. He went 0-for-4 at the plate with a walk, but it wasn’t his lack of offense that bothered him. It was his defense.
First, in the bottom of the eighth, with one out and the bases loaded, Turner fielded a ground ball and threw out the runner at first base. The problem was, he certainly would have had the runner at second, and while no double play can ever be assumed, it seemed like a good possibility that the Phillies could have turned two. Instead, getting just the one out allowed a run to score.
But that wasn’t the most egregious play, because in the bottom of the 11th, the Phillies were one out away from winning the game when this happened:
What the hell happened to Trea Turner man pic.twitter.com/CBIEfWculR
— MKG (@MKG_Sports) August 3, 2023
Nevermind the fact that was scored a hit, which is just another shining example of MLB trying to prove to everyone that their game is so much better now because of the uptick in offense, but that’s a ball that even if it takes a little bit of a bad hop on you that you have to stay in front of and not let the run score.
But every ball hit to Turner’s backhand side these days is an adventure. It’s not quite to the point of being the yips – because he still does make some plays, and some good ones at that, but it’s happening often enough that you immediately hold your breath.
Trea Turner: “Obviously I’m the reason why we lost that game.” pic.twitter.com/tePJrMLAdV
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) August 3, 2023
Turner went on to say that he doesn’t feel like his offensive struggles are bleeding over to the defensive side, but I’m not sure any athlete would say that it was. They’re too prideful. But body language speaks volumes. The instant dejection afterwards is translating the internal dialogue as “Oh no, it’s happening again.”
Ultimately, I agree with Thomson. Turner will be fine. He’ll be a good player again and eventually fans will love him. But, I’m starting to believe we may have to wait until 2024 for that to come to fruition.
Until then, Trea… take a break.