Fernando Tatis Jr.

Padres: Fernando Tatís Jr.’s Standing in the ROY Race

The 2019 MLB rookie classes are loaded. It’s as if every year we are seeing better and/or deeper crops of first-timers than in seasons past. In the National League alone you have young talents such as Chris Paddack, Alex Verdugo, Keston Hiura, Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, Christian Walker, Carson Kelly, Nick Senzel, Austin Riley, Mike Yastrzemski, and Will Smith. But it’s the Padres’ Fernando Tatís Jr., Mets’ Pete Alonso, and Braves’ Mike Soroka who stand tall above the rest.

If you were to ask who should be favored to win NL Rookie of the Year, Alonso or Mike Soroka might be the easy answers for many. Alonso is hitting .259/.363/.585 with an impressive 35 home runs in 112 games while playing in the city of New York for a team on the verge of a playoff spot, and Soroka has a 2.45 ERA in 20 starts for the NL East-leaders.

And if the Mets do shock everyone and make the postseason, there is no doubt that it would tremendously boost the first baseman’s argument- fair or not, while Soroka will have the boost of fronting a division-winning squad. Everything is set up for either of them to be the easy victor, no?

But that is where Tatís Jr. comes into play. He is what’s standing between them and an easy ROY win. And some might even say that the Padres’ youngster has been the best rookie in baseball, let alone the National League, which will help earn him honors for being the senior circuit’s best newcomer. And the numbers back it up.

The race will likely come down to the best rookie NL position player vs. Soroka, so we’ll focus on Tatís Jr. vs. Pete Alonso here. And the numbers back up the argument that it might come down to the Padres shortstop and Atlanta’s young ace.

Tatís Jr. is slashing .323/.383/.587 with 19 home runs, 14 stolen bases, a .400 wOBA, 151 wRC+, and 154 OPS+ in 76 games. He even has a 3.6 fWAR and 3.8 bWAR. But the most impressive part about his performance may be that he’s doing it as a 20-year-old shortstop.

He is second among NL rookies in batting average, on-base percentage, and WAR. He’s third in home runs, and tops in slugging percentage, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. The only departments Alonso leads Tatís Jr. in are home runs and WAR.

But regarding WAR, the Padres’ shortstop’s 3.6 fWAR trails Alonso’s by just 0.3, and his 3.8 bWAR trails the Mets’ rookie by just 0.1. And those numbers include 140 more plate appearances across 36 additional games for Alonso because of a hamstring injury Tatís Jr. sustained earlier in the season.

If you stretch out Tatís Jr.’s appearances to equal Alonso, his WAR figures would be around 5.3 and 5.6, respectfully. And as things are going right now, if both stay healthy, the Padres rookie will finish with a better value than the Mets first baseman in 30-40 fewer games.

And he’s not just having one of the greatest age-20 seasons ever but has been one of the best players in MLB during 2019.

Across the National League as a whole, Tatís Jr. ranks fourth in OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ for those with a minimum of 330 plate appearances, and 14th in WAR, despite the discrepancy in game and plate appearances.

Numbers 7-13 in WAR include (in order) Ronald Acuña Jr., Trevor Story, J.T. Realmuto, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Nolan Arenado, and Yasmani Grandal. But their leads are minimal considering the gap in playing time.

Acuña Jr. and Story both have a 0.5 lead, but Acuña’s is in 37 more games and 190 more plate appearances while Story’s is in 121 more trips to the plate across an additional 23 appearances.

Realmuto has a 0.3 lead in 30 more games (87 more plate appearances), while McNeil has 0.2 more WAR in 23 extra games (81 more plate appearances). And both Arenado and Grandal have 0.1 more WAR despite appearing in 35 and 30 more games, respectfully.

In fact, the Padres’ star man has been so good that if you stretch out his current numbers to a 162-game pace, he would finish with about 41 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and a WAR that would have placed him top-five among all position players in 2018.

It also helps that while Tatís Jr. has “slowed down” to a .871 OPS with five home runs post-All-Star Break, Alonso is in the midst of a slump. His home run Monday night raised his second-half OPS to .718.

But slumps are part of the game, and peripherals point to the Padres infielder succumbing to his own in the not-too-distant-future.

At this moment, it’s hard to put Alonso over Tatís Jr. when looking at the numbers and skillset. Other than home runs, San Diego’s rookie has been better in every other statistical category while playing a monumentally tougher and more valuable defensive position. And Tatís Jr. has the bonus of being that rare legitimate five-tool infielder with a flair that pops off the screen, while Alonso can only match him in power.

However, whatever gap the first baseman needs to make up will no doubt come via the city he plays in, the narrative surrounding the team, and the fact that he was the Home Derby winner. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but the media loves stories, and quiet old San Diego doesn’t cut it for many.

So we should sit back and enjoy the ride because it’s going to be an excellent finish; one that may mirror the NL MVP race. Tatís Jr. and Soroka have been better, but Alonso has the exposure and branding to make it close and challenge them.

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Featured Image via Flickr/Keith Allison

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