Fernando’s Fantastic Feats
Author: Amy Cooper
In June 2016, the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox made a trade. A simple trade between a team looking to contend and a team looking to rebuild. The White Sox added starting pitcher James Shields, who had a solid 4.28 ERA so far on the year. He’d pitched decently the year before as well, with a 3.91 ERA in 33 starts. He was dependable too, a workhorse. He had started at least 31 games every year since 2007. The Padres acquired a starting pitching prospect, Erik Johnson, and a seventeen year old they’d signed the year before from the Dominican Republic, who had yet to play one game in their minor league system. His name was Fernando Tatis Jr., the son of a retired player. Within three years, Tatis went from an unknown prospect to a superstar rookie. The best ERA Shields posted for the ChiSox was 4.53 in 2018, a year in which Shields lost 16 games and the White Sox team lost 100 games. He made $21,000 that year. The trade will likely go down as one of the most one sided thefts in baseball history. So stop beating yourself up for that dumb deal you made! Even paid professionals mess up.
Despite being slowed by injury and the pandemic, the career of Fernando Tatis Jr. is off to a historic start. He is one of the best young players the game has ever seen. He made his MLB debut less than three months after his twentieth birthday. He was the third youngest player in the majors in 2019 and the seventh youngest in 2020. The 22 homers he hit his rookie year are tied for 15th in MLB history among players 20 or younger. He currently sits at 73 homers, the 24th most all time for a player 22 years or younger. In his rookie year, Tatis stole 16 bases. In the previous twenty years, only Elvis Andrus, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper stole more bases at the age of 20 or younger. (Ronald Acuna also stole 16 as a twenty-year old in 2018.) He has 50 stolen bases in his career. In the last thirty years, only ten players had more steals at the age of 22.
When considering Tatis’ rankings compared to historic young players, we must remember he only played in 84 games in 2019 due to a season ending injury and only played in 59 games in 2020 due to the pandemic. While it is already impressive that Tatis has collected these stats it is even more astounding when you consider the number of games he has done it in. All of the players above Tatis in the home run rankings have at least 289 games played and 1,200 at bats while Tatis has played in just 235 and just 893 at bats. It took Ryan Howard the fewest game to reach 100 homers in his career- 325 games. That’s a rate of .307 home runs per game. Tatis is currently averaging .310 home runs per game. This current rate would put him well ahead of Gary Sanchez, who reached 100 home runs the second quickest. It took Sanchez 355 games (.281 home runs per game). A hot streak could put the record in reach for Tatis.
Due to the fact that Tatis has played less games than his counterparts, it might be more telling to view his rate stats. I looked at what hitters who had at least 800 plate appearances before their twenty-third before have achieved throughout history. He is fourth in OPS ranking only after Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx and DiMaggio. When it comes to just slugging percentage, he is third, after Williams and DiMaggio and ahead of Foxx. He ranks ahead of Hall of Famers such as Mel Ott, Eddie Matthews and Stan Musial. He also leads some of the best players of the past couple decades- Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera, as well as fellow current stars- Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. What is perhaps most impressive is how well Tatis Jr. contributes in batting average, home runs and steals. Since the turn of the century, Tatis’ batting average, .298, is the 8th highest of any player with at least 800 plate appearances before turning 23. Of the 7 players with a higher BA, only Mike Trout has more stolen bases. Only Trout, Soto and Cabrera have hit more home runs. Again, however, we should consider the number of plate appearances. Trout had 1,181 more plate appearances than Tatis does, but just 25 more home runs. Soto, who is currently still 22, has 798 more plate appearances and just 16 more dingers. Cabrera had 702 more plate appearances and just five more long balls. Tatís’ 34 home runs in 2021 are 24th all time for a player 22 or young. The record is 47, set by Eddie Matthews in 1953. In that age criteria, only two players matched Tatis in steals and had more home runs than Tatis- Rodriguez in 1998 and Acuna Jr. in 2019.
The Chicago White Sox are 7th in baseball in runs per game. They are eighth in batting average. They feature some of the game’s best young offensive stars. Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncado, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Andrew Vaughn are all 28 or younger and form one of baseball’s best young nucleus. The team has a 10.5 game lead in the American League Central, the biggest divisional lead in baseball. However, it’s hard not to wonder how much better the team could be if they hadn’t traded Tatis.
Statistics from stathead.com and baseball-reference.com