Written by: Justin Choi (@justinochoi)
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You know Fernando Tatís Jr. is good; I know Tatís Jr. is good. He’s so good that the Padres committed 14 years of $340 million to him, and while there have been objections, the general consensus is that it’s a fantastic deal. Everyone involved is happy. The End?
I thought so, but the recent, blockbuster contract inspired me to dive deep into Tatís’ achievements, and the takeaway is that, somehow, I haven’t been appreciating him enough. It’s not that I underestimated his talent –– rather, I underestimated the number of ways to illustrate it. Mike Trout allowed baseball writers to show off their creativity. Tatís does, too.
So if it’s ok with you, indulge me for a few minutes, which is enough time to list exactly four things about him that blew my mind:
He has the largest year-to-year increase in Average Exit Velocity in Statcast history
Young players improve as they spend time in the majors. Veterans reach new heights when they make an adjustment, such as one to their swing paths. Some of them are dramatic and instantly recognizable––in appearance and in numbers — but others are more subtle and can fly under the radar.
As for Tatís, it’d be impossible to forget about this improvement: In 2020, he recorded the largest year-to-year increase in average exit velocity in Statcast history, when it shot up from 90.4 mph to an unheard-of 95.9 mph. Amongst all players to have entered Baseball Savant’s database, Tatís is on top:
What’s even more amazing, though, is that his previous average of 90.4 mph already put him in the top percentile of hitters. When hitters take a step up, it’s usually because they’re breaking out, unlocking a power potential that lay dormant. By all definitions, Tatís had already broken out in 2019, yet still managed to defy expectations. It’s unlikely that he can sustain a 95.9 mph mark across an entire season––Suárez’s EV went down 2 mph after his 5.1 mph gain, for example––but who cares? The achievement alone is just more evidence of Tatís’ sheer talent.
He might be one of the league’s best fielders
Tatís established himself as a bona-fide slugger in his first season, posting a 150 wRC+ in 84 games. But his defense left much to be desired. As I detailed in a previous article, Tatís had an intriguing flaw: He excelled at making difficult plays, but struggled with easy ones, dropping routine grounders or airmailing them over the head of Eric Hosmer. His ceiling was on display, but his floor –– not so much.
In 2019, he had the third-worst OAA (Outs Above Average) amongst shortstops, with -13. But in 2020? Tatís flipped the script by accumulating +7 OAA, which tied for second amongst ALL fielders. Maybe you’re not a fan of OAA, but look at names he tied with: Luis Robert, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Nolan Arenado. Passes the smell test to me.
On responsible plays with estimated success rates between 75% and 100%, Tatís had 4 OAA. On plays with estimated success rates between 0% and 25%, Tatís had 2. Easy plays, hard plays –– he conquered them all. It’s a good way to confirm his maturity as a defender.
Will the progress stick around? That’s a tougher question to answer, since defensive metrics are hardly consistent year-to-year. But I don’t think you go from having -13 OAA to +7 –– in even fewer opportunities, mind you –– without having made a genuine improvement. The fact that his track record consists of just 143 games is a reason to be skeptical, maybe, but it’s also a reason to argue that his development is not yet complete. I know which side I’m on.
He destroys every type of pitch
Baseball phenoms may seem invincible, but they too have weaknesses. Sometimes they’re more general, like a tendency to swing at pitches outside the zone. Or they’re specific, like being late to fastballs up in the zone.
Not Tatís. You could say his walk rate has room for improvement, but does that matter when he obliterated baseballs regardless of their velocity, spin, and movement in 2020? I’m not kidding. There were exactly four players last year who recorded xwOBAs of .350 or above on all three pitch groups (fastball, offspeed, breaking) and all four were elite. Check out what company Tatís had:
Plus, it’s not like any of them skimped on their pitch diets –– the query I ran made sure that all hitters had seen each pitch group at least 100 times. There was a sufficient sample, and in it, we can see how Tatís had a spectacular year. It’s also how he separates himself from other phenoms. Juan Soto might have had a .537 xwOBA on breaking pitches, but against offspeed ones, he recorded a more modest .311 xwOBA.
He’s had a historically good start to his career
An impossible exit velocity, an elite glove, and the ability to crush any pitch––these feats are impressive, but how special is Tatís, really? How do his achievements stack up against those of other players?
WAR isn’t the end-all-be-all, of course, but it’s the best tool we have to compare players across vastly different eras of baseball. Courtesy of Alex Chamberlain on Twitter (@DolphHauldhagen), here’s a list of hitters who put up at least 6.5 fWAR through their age-21 seasons since 1960:
There’s Tatís, lurking down there at number 20. That may not seem oh-my-gosh impressive, but consider that there have been thousands of young prospects who’ve come and gone. Tatís is likely in the 99th percentile, maybe even the 99.9th! Plus, on a per-PA basis, he’s third-best, behind Pujols and Trout. You can’t say he’s a player of their caliber just yet, of course, but it’s also uncanny. No matter how you put it –– through EV, OAA, or good old-fashioned WAR –– Tatís is present, and he leaves an impression. He’s that good.
There’s a lot to think about Tatís and his new contract in terms of value, risk, and future performance, but I’m not adept at analyzing those elements. What I can say, though, is that he appears to be a generational-type talent. There are players who excel at premium positions, others who hit the snot out of a baseball, or even have no particular weakness against a pitch type, but it’s extremely rare that an individual possesses all of the aforementioned qualities. Like everyone else, I’m excited for Tatís to thrive on the field for years to come.
Follow P365 Lead MLB Analyst Justin Choi on Twitter! @justinochoi
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Statistics used in article courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant
Featured image courtesy of photographer K.C. Alfred and The San Diego Union-Tribune