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Miami Marlins analysis: Jacob Turner and control, revisited

Miami Marlins starter Jacob Turner has really struggled with his control in the 2013 season. Once renowned for prospect polish on the mound, has Turner worn down as the season progressed, or has this been an issue for a while?

Marc Serota

Last week, we discussed what made Miami Marlins starter Jacob Turner stand out in terms of struggles as compared to the rest of the Marlins' staff. The answer was very simple: control.

In looking for the areas of concern for Turner, one weakness seems to be increasingly sticking out: his surprising lack of control. Earlier this year, the lack of strike zone control was "effectively wild," as it appeared Turner was morphing into a pitcher who threw out of the zone often to get swings and misses. Now, those swings and misses are down as hitters are failing to chase his pitches, and the most recent results have been ugly. In the month of August, Turner managed a 4.18 ERA, but that was backed by a 5.79 FIP and more walks (21) than strikeouts (16).

This shows that the month of August has been a rough one for Turner this year, as he walked more guys than he struck out and was all over the place in terms of the strike zone. We mentioned that he has far and away the lowest zone percentage on the Marlins' staff, with the rest of the staff pounding the strike zone to develop effectiveness.

But did these problems arise just this month, or have they been around for a little while? I took a look at Turner's balls-to-called-strike ratio as the season progressed to see if there was a trend to be seen or whether Turner's luck was just heading in the wrong direction as of late.


Turner, 2013 B/CS 3-Start Avg
05/31 2.7 ---
06/05 2.7 ---
06/11 1.6 2.4
06/17 1.6 2.0
06/22 2.3 1.8
06/29 1.5 1.8
07/05 2.0 2.0
07/10 2.5 2.0
07/19 2.9 2.4
07/24 1.7 2.3
07/29 4.3 3.0
08/03 3.3 3.1
08/09 3.5 3.7
08/14 5 3.9
08/20 3.6 4.0
08/25 3.1 3.9
08/31 3.0 3.2
09/08 1.7 2.6

As you can see by the numbers and the corresponding chart, the change in control has definitely occurred within the last month and a half. Turner was steadily in the mid-to-low two's on his ball-to-called-strike ratio, which acceptable as average production in that department. He mized in a few good starts with a few ugly ones, culminating in a solid start versus the Colorado Rockies on July 24 in which he struck out four and walked two in six innings.

But from there, disaster struck, and he lost a good amount of control over his pitches. At one point, his three-start running average reached four balls for every called strike thrown, which is replacement level performance that would not be Major League viable. He has since brought those numbers down, and his past three starts since the disastrous 10-walk, no-strikeout set of starts on August 14 and 20, the numbers have begun to look better.

So it would appear as though Turner began struggling sometime around late July or early August. His early season numbers matched his overall performance from last season on balls versus called strikes (2.2 in 2012 with the Marlins), but as the season progressed, he has gotten worse.

What could be the cause of this problem? That is an issue that we in the cheap seats may not be able to address. Turner believes his latest problems stem from an issue commanding and controlling the fastball.

"I'm not making the pitches when I need to make them," Turner said. "The biggest thing is not commanding my fastball the way I need to. It's very frustrating."

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Since a good majority of Turner's pitches are either two- or four-seam fastballs, that seems reasonable. But is that the case? Again, let's examine balls versus called strikes on a per-month basis from 2013.

Turner, 2013 Fastballl B/CS
May-June 1.5
July 1.9
August-September 2.2

If you break down the trends in that fashion, he is indeed losing control of the fastball. These numbers are up from last season, when he threw fastballs with a balls-to-called-strike ratio of 1.5-to-one. The problem is that he has never really displayed good control of his breaking stuff, either last year or this year. If Turner continues to struggle with placing his curveball and slider in the zone occasionally, hitters are going to respect those pitches less and sit on his best fastballs. If he cannot put those in the zone either, then he may become a walk machine.

It is so odd to see a player like Turner who once had the pedigree of a control pitcher in the minors struggle so badly to find the zone in the big leagues. Unlike guys like Nathan Eovaldi, who likely have a bullpen role if they struggle, Turner does not appear to have the great stuff that is required to work out of the pen. When the Marlins acquired him from the Detroit Tigers, he looked like he had lost a lot of his elite ceiling and projected more as a third starter with a high floor. But these control issues are eating away at that floor as well, and he needs to rectify them before it's too late.

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