Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images
A half season that was worth a lifetime’s worth.
The legendary rookie season of Fernando Tatis Jr. is—very, very unfortunately—over. After being pulled from Tuesday’s game against the Rays with a back spasm, it was abundantly clear within days of the injury that he wasn’t going to be returning soon, if not at all until the 2020 season.
This wasn’t Tatís Jr. first brush with injury this year, as he missed time from the end of April until June 6th. Considering he will now have played just 84 games in his rookie year, he still finds himself having one of the better debut seasons—at least on a rate basis—in recent memory. Among rookies this year, here is where he ranks in the major categories:
- wRC+: 2nd (149)
- HR: 2nd (22)
- Baserunning Runs: 4th (3.2)
- fWAR: 2nd (3.7)
Sure, Pete Alonso is likely going to run away with the National League Rookie of the Year, and rightfully so, but that’s with an additional forty-and-counting games under his belt. The major difference, though, is that Alonso is a good four years older, while Tatís Jr. is still unable to buy a legal drink in the United States.
In that light, it makes his rookie season stand out even more. If you look at rookies under 21 since 1988, you see a similar picture:
- wRC+: 4th
- HR: 8th
- Baserunning Runs: 6th
- fWAR: 9th
When you look at wRC+, the only under-21 rookies that have been better are Mike Trout, Brett Lawrie, and Albert Pujols. By fWAR, it’s just Roberto Alomar, Francisco Lindor, Cody Bellinger, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jason Heyward, Pujols, and Trout. Not a bad list!
On the exit velocity side, it’s only slightly less impressive, because while his hard hit rate in the 80th percentile is more than solid, he has had an average exit velocity of just 89.6 mph, which is rather unremarkable. This is where he really is a rookie, but the flashes of exit velo brilliance lead you to believe that this could be one of the lower marks of his hopefully long career.
This ball was hit at 109.6 mph:
This ball was 110.8 mph:
His defense also isn’t too shabby, and even right before his injury he was still able to make dynamic, leaping grabs:
Beyond extraordinary. pic.twitter.com/VFpjjayykZ
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) August 13, 2019
So, it’s just sad. There’s not much more that can be said, and even though the Padres aren’t in the thick of a pennant chase it’s still disappointing for a fan base that was dying for exciting players to follow, and now they suddenly have a bevy of them, Tatís Jr. being just one of them.
Which is why the bigger long-term concern is health, obviously. He’s had hamstring issues, now a back issue, and he’s just 20 years-old. That doesn’t necessarily portend bad news, but for a player as young and with as much team control, the biggest concern, and it’s a smaller ones as far as young, dynamic players go, is that he’s actually on the field for a full season.
Usually it would be easy to project that he’s a guaranteed, bona fide star considering his age and profile, and you see how he stacks up against players who played similarly at such a young age. Yet there are more players like him now, and the game itself is just getting younger in general—Juan Soto, Gleyber Torres, and then even Bryce Harper before him hit peak performance early, and Harper is an example of all the ways it can go both bad and very, very good. His stardom could be of a similar flavor.