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Tatis eyes historic batting crown in rookie season

@AJCassavell
August 12, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Welcome to the Major League leaderboards, Fernando Tatis Jr. The Padres' rookie phenom might sit toward the top of them for a long time. Tatis' 14-game hitting streak came to an end in the Padres’ 8-3 loss to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon. But with his four

SAN DIEGO -- Welcome to the Major League leaderboards, Fernando Tatis Jr.

The Padres' rookie phenom might sit toward the top of them for a long time.

Tatis' 14-game hitting streak came to an end in the Padres’ 8-3 loss to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon. But with his four plate appearances, he officially qualified for the leaderboards.

Right away, Tatis found himself in good company:

Average: .320 (fifth in National League, seventh in MLB)
On-base percentage: .383 (11th in NL, 17th in MLB)
Slugging percentage: .600 (fourth in NL, sixth in MLB)
wRC+: 153 (fourth in NL, eighth in MLB)

Those numbers are either first or second among all rookies. He’s first in slugging percentage and wRC+ and trails the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds in batting average and on-base percentage. Clearly, Tatis has established himself as a strong contender for the NL Rookie of the Year Award, even though he missed all of May with a left hamstring strain.

But the most interesting of those qualifying stats is probably Tatis' .320 average, which puts him in the mix for the NL batting crown.

An historic batting title?
Tatis enters the 2019 batting race chasing some serious history. When the season ends, he'll be 20 years, 270 days old. That would make him the youngest batting champ in Major League history.

He would edge out Al Kaline by 10 days and Ty Cobb by 17. Those two Hall of Famers are the only players in MLB history to lead their league in average before turning 21.

Tatis has a long way to go. He trails the Mets' Jeff McNeil by 17 points. But his numbers have more room to fluctuate because he has fewer at-bats.

"It would be great," Tatis said. "It would mean a lot to me, and it would set the bar very high to start my career. That's how I want it."

Why he could do it
Tatis' skill set lends itself to a high batting average. He makes hard contact, and he boasts legitimate elite speed.

"He hits balls hard, and he flies," Padres manager Andy Green said. "Those are really good things for getting hits."

But Green was quick to note another factor at play in Tatis' high average: His slumps are better than anyone else's. When Tatis is slightly "off" at the plate, he has a tendency to hit ground balls to the right side and flares into left. When he does that, he still has a good chance to reach base.

"If that's his miss when he's going sideways, those still have a chance to be hits," Green said. "They don't for a lot of us that played this game. Our misses are: You're out every time and going back to the dugout."

Why he might not
There's one obvious concerning factor in Tatis' chase for a batting crown:

"I wouldn't place a limit on what he can do," Green said. "But to be a perennial contender for a batting title, the [strikeout] rate will have to come down. That's stuff he's aware of, but we're really not worried about that."

Indeed, the Padres aren't too concerned with Tatis' 29-percent strikeout rate. They know he can be an extremely productive hitter, even if he's whiffing often. (That number is 12th in the Majors, and easily the highest for any batting-title contender.)

As it pertains to a high batting average though, strikeouts make things difficult. A player who punches out that frequently needs extreme results on balls in play. That's precisely what Tatis has gotten.

Tatis' .414 batting average on balls in play easily leads the Majors. Generally speaking, hitters typically see regression from a number that high. But Tatis -- with speed, hard contact and, in Green's eyes, a penchant for “quality misses” -- is looking to buck that trend.

It’s probably a longshot that Tatis closes the gap on Yelich. He'd need to jump the Mets' Jeff McNeil and the Pirates' Bryan Reynolds, too.

But Tatis is only 20. It might be a matter of when, not if, he wins a batting crown.

"He'll do it at some point," Padres hitting coach Johnny Washington said. "We think he's an MVP-caliber type player. He's a premier talent, and nothing surprises me when he does it."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.