Tatis named NL MVP finalist after stellar '21

November 9th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- threatens to turn spectator sport into sensory overload. He’s not merely one to watch when he steps into the batter’s box; he’s a must-see player the moment he steps onto the field.

Tatis fills highlight reels with daring moves on the bases that somehow still catch defenders off-guard, remarkable bursts of speed as a runner and a fielder, midair snags so aesthetically amazing they virtually demand a judging panel and bat speed and power that send baseballs whistling to the far reaches of any ballpark -- and beyond. His bat-flip panache and stutter-step on the home run trot only add to the show.

Tatis’ combination of elite skills -- power, speed, glove and arm -- is rare indeed. The Padres’ shortstop is at the top of his game.

But is Tatis at the top of the game? Is he deserving of winning the 2021 National League MVP Award?

That question will be answered by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which has the duty of voting on the major MLB awards. On Monday, Tatis was named one of three NL MVP finalists, along with Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper and Nationals right fielder Juan Soto.

It’s an intriguing trio -- and not only because they are difficult to separate statistically this year. The NL finalists are immune from the traditional debate over what “most valuable” means. None of the three comes from a postseason team, and only Harper’s Phillies had a winning season (82-80).

So, it seems, the writers’ vote truly will be a judgment of individual performance.

"I feel like the numbers will just speak for themselves -- what I did this year with the passion I did it with,” Tatis said late in the regular season.

About the numbers, here are the traditional stats:

Tatis: .282/.364/.611 slash line, 99 runs, 42 HRs, 97 RBIs, 25 SBs
Harper: .309/.429/.615 slash line, 101 runs, 35 HRs, 84 RBIs, 13 SBs
Soto: .313/.465/.534 slash line, 111 runs, 29 HRs, 95 RBIs, nine SBs

And here are select Statcast and other advanced metrics:

Tatis: 6.5 bWAR, 7.3 offensive bWAR, .975 OPS, 3.9 WPA, .401 xwOBA, .604 xSLG, 12.8 barrels/PA%, 22 bolts, 2 OAA
Harper: 5.9bWAR, 6.5 offensive bWAR, 1.044 OPS, 4.7 WPA, .427 xwOBA, .598 xSLG, 10.9 barrels/PA%, 0 bolts, -5 OAA
Soto: 7.0 bWAR, 6.8 offensive bWAR, .999 OPS, 4.4 WPA, .426 xwOBA, .533 xSLG, 8.4 barrels/PA%, 0 bolts, 5 OAA

The BBWAA voters -- ballots were cast at the end of the regular season, and winners will be announced Nov. 18 on MLB Network -- weighed those numbers and more. Tatis may have been dinged by the fact he played less than the other two candidates, limited to 130 games because of three trips to the injured list (because of a partially dislocated left shoulder twice, COVID-19 protocols once).

Tatis produced corner-outfielder offensive numbers while playing the premium position of shortstop most of the season. (The Padres moved him to the outfield for 24 games, attempting to reduce the risk of another shoulder injury.) His range at short was as good as ever, but he made 21 errors there.

"A really long year," Tatis said after San Diego’s 79-83 campaign. “… I'm just really proud of myself, how I've held myself accountable, going through all the struggles I went through this year."

An MVP finalist enduring “struggles.” It boggles the mind to think of the heights the 22-year-old Tatis could have hit in a season devoid of them. Rockies manager Bud Black, for one, sees Tatis as not merely an MVP-level performer, but one who could rank among the sport’s all-time greats.

“That’s how talented he is,” Black told the Denver Post at midseason. “His body, if healthy, is going to produce a lot of statistical achievements across every category. We’ve already seen he’s got power, he’s got speed, he plays a premium position, he’s got a cannon for an arm.

“On pure statistical numbers, he’s got great talent. Then, you add great defense, with his arm and range. There’s a stolen-base component. There’s the energy level. He can beat you in so many different ways.”

Tatis may or may not take home the trophy this year. But it seems certain he’ll be pulling MVP votes for many years to come.