Avoiding the dreaded "sophomore slump", Fernando Tatis Jr. not only took a step forward in his development in 2020 he rewarded those willing to bet on his skill set with a resounding campaign representing one of the most outstanding stat lines in the truncated season. Before diving into his data, a quote from last year's player profile on Fantasy Alarm about Tatis Jr.:

“How about spending on a 130-game season with 27 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .280 average with an on-base percentage of 35-percent. If he does reach the 150-game threshold, Tatis Jr. could finish as a top-five player in fantasy. Invest with eyes wide open.”

Well, when writing profiles in early January, it's tough to predict a 60-game season due to a pandemic. However, suggesting Tatis Jr. could finish as a top-five fantasy player proved to be spot on. Of course, he's still yet to appear in over 100 games in a season but 2020 provides him a pass. Tatis Jr. appeared in 59 of San Diego's 60 contests accruing 257 plate appearances with 50 runs, 17 home runs, 45 RBI, 11 stolen bases and a .277/.366/.571 slash line. 

Tatis Jr. finished second in the National League in home runs and runs scored, fourth in RBI along with stolen bases, fifth in total bases (128), sixth in extra-base hits (30) while recording the third highest fWAR (wins above replacement). Only Mookie Betts and MVP Freddie Freeman finished ahead of Tatis Jr. in fWAR in the senior circuit. 

On August 9th, Tatis Jr. reached his 100th game in the majors. Within his first 100 contests, Tatis Jr. recorded 127 hits, 30 home runs, a .320/.385/625 slash, 1.010 on-base plus slugging percentage, 71 RBI, 248 total bases and 20 steals. He's the first shortstop in the modern era (since 1900) with at least 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases in his first 100 games. Among players age-21 or younger in their first 100 games, Tatis Jr. owns the highest slugging percentage, home runs and OPS, fourth in slugging, tied for sixth in hits and the ninth highest batting average. Pretty, pretty good. 

Not only did Tatis Jr. make strides in his plate production he also improved on defense committing only three errors in 473.1 innings in 2020 compared to 18 in 731.1 innings during his 2019 rookie season. His three errors only ranked lower than Orlando Arcia and Dansby Swanson who each only committed two last year. 

A late season swoon harpooned Tatis Jr.'s final numbers. As tantalizing as his skill set projects for the future, there's going to be some peaks and valleys in his numbers over a full season. Despite this, his progression in discipline may be his most appealing result from the truncated 2020 campaign. 

Tatis Jr. upped his walk rate to 10.5 percent, an increase of 2.4 percentage points while reducing his strikeout percentage by 5.9 points to a much more palatable 23.7 percent. Delving into his Statcast results, Tatis Jr. also cut his swing percentage slightly while slashing his whiff percent by over seven points to 28.2 percent. Not sure what to make out of his spike in chase (outside the strike zone) contact to 61.3 percent but Tatis Jr. made the most of it. This may be covered later during the impact his speed provides. 

However, the real fuel behind the Tatis Jr. continued breakout lies in his batted ball results. Tatis Jr. recorded 164 batted ball events last season with 32 barrels (19.5 percent), a 95.9 MPH average exit velocity and robust 62.2 hard hit rate. For perspective, Tatis Jr. led the majors in all three of these categories. His confluence of hard hits with better discipline shine through his expected statistics:

  • .298 expected batting average - 93rd percentile
  • .612 expected slugging percentage - 97th percentile
  • .404 expected weighted on-base average - 98th percentile

Seeing Tatis Jr.'s zone profile highlights these results:

Although Tatis Jr. notched a 48.2 ground ball percentage, he made the most of his improved 26.8% line drive rate. He traded weak contact and reduced his flare/burner percentage for the spike in barrels. Tatis Jr. raised his average exit velocity by 5.5 MPH, his barrel rate by 6.3 percentage points and his hard-hit rate by 18.1 percent. Here's a detailed chart helping one visualize Tatis Jr.'s exit velocity in regard to his launch angles:

As for his speed, this too placed Tatis Jr. into elite status. His average sprint speed of 29.4 feet per second puts him in the 98th percentile among his peers and he recorded 14 bolts (a sprint speed of 30 feet per second or faster) last season. Overcoming his ground ball rate with speed helps his outs above average which also insulates his expected batting average. 

Injury concerns and spotty plate discipline depressed Tatis Jr.'s overall average draft position entering 2020 but the discount no longer applies. Taking into account his tremendous ranks in his first 100 games played along with his personality, he's easy to root for and target in the top-three picks for 2021. 

In order to discern if this claim can be warranted, further investigation ensues. For starters, a back injury cut short his 2019 season causing Tatis Jr. to miss most of the second half so using those numbers along with last year cannot be accomplished. So, here's his career numbers to date for a frame of reference:

  • Tatis Jr. last two Seasons: 143 games, 677 plate appearances, 111 runs, 39 home runs, 98 RBI, 27 stolen bases; .301/.374/.582, 9.1 BB%, 27.2 K%, .281 ISO, .396 wOBA

Within this sample, Tatis Jr. sports a 14.3 swinging strike percentage, 69.6 contact rate, 80.5 Z-Contact percent and a 30.9 O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage. Concerns about his ability to generate contact may scare off some. And it should not be ignored. Taking his Statcast data into account, Tatis Jr. registered 391 batted ball events his first two years with 61 barrels (15.6 percent), a 92.7 MPH average exit velocity and 51.7 hard hit rate. Still alluring but his expected batting average dips to .274 with a .542 expected slugging and .371 expected weighted on-base average. Here's his spray chart from his first two years:

Staying with Statcast for a moment, Tatis Jr.'s batted ball profile suggests recent results similar to Tatis Jr. include Franmil Reyes and Eloy Jiménez . However, when looking at ZiPS for the number one player comparison, Alex Rodriguez appeared. Suddenly, the Statcast comps do not look as troubling. Unfortunately, Fangraphs data does not include plate discipline metrics back to A-Rod's Age-21 (1997) or Age-22 (1998) seasons. Earliest findings identify Rodriguez's discipline metrics in 2002 during which he recorded a swinging strike percentage of 11 with a 74.1 contact rate, 80.8 Z-Contact percent and 17.3 O-Swing percentage. This season resulted in Rodriguez launching 57 home runs. 

Taking this a step further, here's a chart displaying how Rodriguez and Tatis Jr. stack up in the early portions of their careers: 

One of the most difficult parts of projecting a talented young player like Tatis Jr. lies in the potential volatility of results. Could Tatis Jr. take the quantum leap like Rodriguez did in his Age-22 year, absolutely. However, injuries, the pandemic still lingering and a potential labor shutdown prior to the start of 2021 may cut his season short. 

As far as his projections, here's how two different sites foresee his upcoming year: 

  • Tatis Jr. 2021 Steamer projection: 150 games, 677 plate appearances, 110 runs, 39 home runs, 100 RBI, 26 stolen bases; .286/.363/.551, 9.6 BB%, 23.7 K%, .265 ISO, .378 wOBA
  • Tatis Jr. 2021 ZiPS projection: 119 games, 524 plate appearances, 89 runs, 28 home runs, 94 RBI, 24 stolen bases; .284/.365/.540, 9.9 BB%, 26 K%, .256 ISO, .378 wOBA

Both systems agree on Tatis Jr.'s ability to get on base with identical wOBA's. Despite the reduced playing time projection, ZiPS actually forecasts a better run and RBI per plate appearance rate than Steamer. As for power and speed, Steamer provides Tatis Jr. with a better home run per plate appearance projection, but ZiPS yields a better stolen base total per plate appearance. This all remains relative to production in the year ahead. Setting a baseline for a projection can be aided by using some history with an eye on the future: 

Since Steamer's projection almost directly aligns with Tatis Jr.'s career rates and ZiPS represents the low tide of his numbers if an injury occurs, here's how Tatis Jr.'s numbers may improve if he takes the Rodriguez path in his Age-22 season: 

  • Tatis Jr. with 300 plate appearances: 53 runs, 19 HR, 50 RBI, 14 SB
  • Tatis Jr. with 450 plate appearances: 80 runs, 28 HR, 75 RBI, 20 SB
  • Tatis Jr. with 600 plate appearances: 107 runs, 37 HR, 100 RBI, 27 SB

When trying to deduce his batting average, using his .274 career xBA as the baseline, Tatis Jr. may hit in the mid-.280's or even reach his xBA from last season. However, knowing he may be streaky means using the mid-.280 plateau represents a reasonable outcome. There's even room for growth in the ceiling for Tatis Jr. which means he's a worthy target in 2021 and one could make the case for first overall depending on the format. 


Statistical Credits:



MLB.com - Game Notes


ZiPS projection courtesy of Dan Szymborski