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Fernando Tatís Jr.: An Appreciation

Taking a snapshot of Fernando Tatís Jr. and examining where he is thriving, where he’s improved, and just what makes him so much fun to watch.

MLB: New York Mets at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

There is so much to enjoy about baseball this year. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s breakout. Ronald Acuña’s continued residence at the top of the leaderWARd (a term I just created on the spot). Kris Bryant’s return to form, along with his absurd versatility. Adolís Garcia’s emergence for an otherwise listless Texas club. And that’s just a small sample of the hitters.

We here at Beyond the Box Score have managed to dedicate space to most of them. Less so for Fernando Tatís Jr. That’s not to say that the San Diego Padres star shortstop isn’t getting his due—he is. On a seemingly daily basis. But—and this is in the interest of full disclosure—I wanted to take some time and just revel in the absurdity of just how good he has been this season.

Tatís has less than 200 plate appearances to his name this year. On a team coming into the season to such intense fanfare, he’s shaken off what had the potential to be a devastating shoulder injury, some time on the Covid-IL, a minor oblique deal, and whatever this was. There are a number of reasons that Tatís shouldn’t quite be having the MVP-caliber season that he is.

And yet, when you look at players who have at least 180 plate appearances this year, Tatís appears at 12 on that leaderWARd (more specifically a 2.4 fWAR). As of this writing, he trails only Vladito and Acuña (who just hit his 18th 460 feet) in home runs (17) and his 169 wRC+ ranks fourth among that group. And that fWAR figure comes despite being an absolute disaster in matters of the glove. In any case, the goal here is to simply kick back and marvel at some of the things that Tatís is doing that are keying his establishment among the game’s very best.

You want percentile rankings? Here’s some percentile rankings (via Baseball Savant):

  • Avg Exit Velocity: 92.5 MPH - 93rd
  • Max Exit Velocity: 115.9 MPH - 97th
  • HardHit%: 52.2 - 92nd
  • Barrel%: 18.3 - 96th
  • xBA: .290 - 88th
  • xwOBA: .418 - 97th
  • xSLG: .638 - 99th
  • Walk%: 12.4 - 88th

Now, there’s a couple spots that aren’t listed there: K% and Whiff%. I’ll talk about the aggressiveness shortly, but there’s a lot to love here nonetheless. The xwOBA and xSLG are easily career marks, while he’s right in line with his outputs from last year in terms of his average exit velocity, barrels, etc. Unsurprising, given that most of Tatís’ improvements from 2020 to 2021 have been in the power game.

The most notable among those improvements has been the jump in ISO where he’s gone from a strong .295 in 2020 to an absurd .377. The next closest to him is Shohei Ohtani at .330, with Vlad Jr. following at .328. Now, smaller sample so that number likely comes down as it expands, but to be that far ahead of those two guys specifically is just...wild. Twenty-six of his 45 hits have gone for extra basis. You kind of just have to laugh at it.

And there’s no sort of discrimination on where the power comes from in terms of direction of the ball. On oppo contact, he’s making hard contact at a 38.5 percent rate and getting the ball in the air over 60 percent of the time. As such, his HR/FB rate sits at 25 percent on the oppo side. On the pull side, nobody’s hitting the ball harder than Tatís, at 58.6 percent, while his HR/FB rate there is at 50 percent. Obviously there’s a disparity, but it’s not as if there’s an absence of power on one side. Only two players are doing it more in the oppo game: Akil Baddoo—buoyed by his strong start—and Colin Moran.

It helps that Tatís has been more aggressive against fastballs and breaking pitches this year. Historically—if you can use a two-year sample as “history”—Tatís has gone after offspeed stuff at his lowest rate. His Swing% against hard stuff has increased by about five percent (up to 50.3), while that percentage against breaking pitches has risen by about the same to 52.1. Conversely, the swing rate against offspeed has dropped about that same five percent to 48.8. In any case, this dude is absolutely feasting on fastballs. His slugging percentage against the hard stuff comes in at .839 which represents almost a 200 point jump from his previous career mark there. Even more encouraging is that his chase-and-miss percentage against fastballs is 33.3 percent, easily his lowest mark against the three types.

And that’s why the aggressiveness isn’t necessarily the wart in his game that one might initially think.

Tatís’ swing rate has risen to 50.6 percent this year overall. That’s the highest mark among his three seasons, including a jump up to 79.5 percent on pitches inside of the strike zone. But his CSW% has also dropped to its lowest point, at 25.8 percent. On pitches inside of the strike zone, he’s making contact just a shade over 81 percent of the time (also an improvement). So while the whiffs are there—and he’s making contact at just a 47.1 percent rate on pitches outside of the strike zone—much of the chasing is coming off on the offspeed and breaking stuff. Which isn’t terribly surprising, but it does speak to how he can compensate for the swing-and-miss that exists in his game: by absolutely murdering fastballs.

Even then, though, Tatís has shown more competency in reaching base via the walk. His 12.4 percent walk rate is the highest so far and has allowed him to maintain an OBP near his career average—.366 this year vs. a .372 career average—despite a BABIP that has fallen by 20 points (.286). That CSW% definitely does indicate that he’s doing a strong job of not letting pitches in the strike zone go by, so the walk rate is likely the product of legitimate pitch recognition on some level. If he can cut that O-Swing% by laying off some of those breaking and offspeed pitches outside of the strike zone by even one iota, then how do you stop him? Especially considering that such a thing isn’t necessarily something he has to do.

Ope. Almost forgot about the speed! Even in the smaller sample, Tatís’ 13 swipes are tied for second-most in Major League Baseball. His sprint speed sits in the 95th percentile. FanGraphs’ baserunning metric has him at 4.1, which is not only the best mark of his career, but also paces the league. It’s one thing to bring the power bat to the yard every day, but it’s another to add this dynamic to all of it as well.

We don’t need to talk about the defense. It’s bad. Which is great, especially if Tatís’ longer term goal is to be the Dominican Derek Jeter. And as much as it’s not ideal to have a shortstop with a poor glove, the Padres have enough quality defense embedded into their lineup that they can compensate. Not in the way that, say, they could if Tatís were a poor fielding outfielder, but it’s not as if they have erratic defenders scattered around the field. There’s a way to compensate there in a general sense.

And none of this is to say just how immensely satisfying to the ol’ eyeballs it is to watch Fernando Tatís Jr. play the game of baseball. I mentioned this in my rather messy hitting aesthetics piece from a few weeks back, but when you talk about the visual aspect of the game, there’s almost nothing that compares. Maybe Vlad Jr. mashing a pitch 900 feet or Javier Báez playing defense.

When it comes to Tatís, though, you’ve got it coming from all angles on the offensive side. On one hand, you have the effortless power. Then you get the nonchalant bat drop. Or maybe a more intense flip. Or maybe he just stares and admires it for a long period of time. And then you get the stutter-step around third base. And then you get the Swag Chain. Sometimes in that journey from the box back to the plate, you also get some insane, all-out effort on the basepaths as well. It all just culminates in a player that is so obscenely fun to watch on every level. He was already that prior to 2021, but in the midst of every single hurdle he’s had to leap this year, he’s demonstrated improvement all over the place. We should be so lucky as to witness it all.

Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandyHolt42.