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Fernando Tatis Jr.'s future? Historically bright

@SlangsOnSports
August 20, 2020

Fernando Tatis Jr.’s rookie year in 2019 was fun, but that was just an appetizer for what we’ve gotten a chance to witness so far in 2020. The 21-year-old is currently leading the Majors in home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and runs scored. On Monday, he became the fourth-youngest player

Fernando Tatis Jr.’s rookie year in 2019 was fun, but that was just an appetizer for what we’ve gotten a chance to witness so far in 2020. The 21-year-old is currently leading the Majors in home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and runs scored. On Monday, he became the fourth-youngest player with seven RBIs in a game (since the stat became official in 1920). If he were to lead the Majors in homers, he’d be just the third player to do so in his age-21 season or younger, joining 1953 Eddie Mathews and 1901 Sam Crawford. And the list goes on and on.

He’s doing it all right now, and electrifying the entire league along the way. And it isn’t just his 2020 season that we should expect to continue to be great. FanGraphs Senior Writer Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections through the rest of Tatis’ 20s are eye-popping, to say the least. Writing about the forecasted numbers this week, Szymborski called it a “phenomenal projection.”

Phenomenal indeed. Get excited, Padres fans. Here’s what the projection looks like.

Fernando Tatis Jr. ZiPS Projections, age-22 season through age-29 season:
2021: 30 HR, 124 RBIs, 131 OPS+, 5.9 WAR, 29 SB
2022: 33 HR, 131 RBIs, 143 OPS+, 6.5 WAR, 27 SB
2023: 35 HR, 136 RBIs, 145 OPS+, 6.8 WAR, 27 SB
2024: 37 HR, 139 RBIs, 149 OPS+, 7.0 WAR, 26 SB
2025: 38 HR, 140 RBIs, 148 OPS+, 7.0 WAR, 27 SB
2026: 39 HR, 142 RBIs, 153 OPS+, 7.1 WAR, 27 SB
2027: 38 HR, 138 RBIs, 155 OPS+, 6.9 WAR, 25 SB
2028: 39 HR, 140 RBIs, 162 OPS+, 7.1 WAR, 23 SB

Those potential numbers are otherworldly, let alone for a player like Tatis, who plays shortstop. Let’s take a look at the historical context for a projection like this.

Wins Above Replacement

The projection would give Tatis 60 career WAR per FanGraphs through his age-29 season, adding the projections onto what he’s already accumulated in his career. That would be third-most among players to primarily play shortstop through their age-29 seasons, behind Alex Rodriguez (77.7) and Arky Vaughan (63.3). It is worth noting, however, that Rodriguez was a third baseman for the final two seasons of that age span.

To compare that projection to a current shortstop, Francisco Lindor currently has 27.5 career WAR, and is currently playing his age-26 season. His most WAR in a season is 7.6 in 2018, so his odds of breaking the 55-WAR threshold through age-29 seem unlikely.

But the most impressive part of the WAR projections for Tatis is the sheer quantity of five-plus WAR seasons. He’s projected for 5.9 or more WAR in each season from age 22-29. Only four players have had at least 5.9 WAR in each season from age 22-29: Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins and Hank Aaron. All four are Hall of Famers.

Mike Trout has reached at least 5.9 WAR in each full season of his career, and was on pace to do this for his ages 22-29 seasons, but the shortened season in 2020 may preclude him from doing so.

Home Runs

He’s projected to have have at least 30 homers in each season from ages 22-29, topping out at 39, twice. The only players to hit at least 30 home runs in each season in that age span are Albert Pujols, Rodriguez, Eddie Mathews and Jimmie Foxx. Yet again, that is elite and Hall of Fame-level company.

Lindor has reached 30 homers in each season from 2017-19, beginning with his age-23 season, so even without a shortened season he wouldn’t have been able to do it in the years Tatis is projected to. And even Trout will come at least a season shy, because he hit only 29 home runs in 2016, his age-24 season.

Tatis' projected homers in addition to what he’s already hit would put him at 323 for his career when his age-29 season is complete. That’d be second-most by a primary shortstop through his age-29 season behind Rodriguez, but Rodriguez’s final two seasons in that stretch were as a third baseman for the Yankees.

Taking position out of the equation, only 11 players have hit more than 323 home runs through their age-29 seasons: Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Pujols, Mel Ott, Aaron, Andruw Jones, Juan Gonzalez and Frank Robinson. Those are some serious power-hitter names.

Runs Batted In

Tatis’ projected RBI totals may be the most out-of-this-world part of the entire projection. He’s slated for at least 124 RBIs in each season beginning with 2021, which would be quite the continued boon to the Padres’ offense.

No player has had even 120 or more RBIs in each season from ages 22 through 29 since the stat became official in 1920. The most is in seven of eight seasons, by Jimmie Foxx.

In fact, this would be notable even if we remove age entirely. Only five players have had at least eight 120-RBI seasons in their careers: Lou Gehrig (11), Babe Ruth (11), Rodriguez (9), Joe DiMaggio (8) and Foxx (8). And Tatis is projected to join that list before he even turns 30.

OPS+

Tatis’ adjusted OPS+, which accounts for ballpark and other factors, is projected to be at least 131 in each of those next eight seasons. 100 is league average.

A handful of players have had at least a 130 OPS+ each season from age 22-29, but the list is rife with next-level hitting talent: Miguel Cabrera, Pujols, Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, Eddie Murray, Dick Allen, Aaron, Mantle, Ott, Hornsby, Ruth, Tris Speaker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Collins, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie.

That’s a mouthful, but it would also be a very impressive list for Tatis to join. Trout’s OPS+ has been 169 or higher in each season beginning with his age-22 campaign, but even he will need to still play one more season, his age-29 season in 2021, to join the list above. Lindor has had an OPS+ of 130 or higher once, in 2018 (132).

Stolen Bases

There are so many elements of Tatis’ game that make him electric, and his speed is a notable component there. The projections aren’t just about power, they’re also about base-stealing prowess. Tatis is projected to swipe at least 23 bases in each season through his age-29 campaign.

No player has had at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in each season in that age-span. Bobby Bonds came the closest, with seven of his eight seasons from age-22 through 29 boasting those numbers.

But Tatis isn’t just projected for 20-20, he’s projected for 30-20, with his homer totals all topping 30 as well. Only one player has eight such seasons for his career, regardless of age: Barry Bonds, with eight. The next-most is his father, with six.

Tatis’ 2020 season isn’t over yet, and it’s been historic and fun to watch on a nightly basis. But as valuable as it is to live in the moment, there’s a lot to look forward to over the next eight years, too, if even part of these projections come to fruition.

Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.