Is Fernando Tatis Jr. Actually 1 of the Worst Shortstops in Baseball?

Fernando Tatis Jr. was one of the breakout stars of the 2019 baseball season. Much like Zion Williamson in the NBA, the San Diego Padres slugger promising rookie season was cut short by injury, although Williamson’s was during the front half. Also, like Williamson, Tatis Jr. is already coming with some hype that could be his downfall if he is unable to meet it. One way it may already be rearing its head is in his defense, where some numbers show that Tatis is not only sub-par but bad in the field. 

Fernando Tatis Jr.’s rookie season

Tatis Jr. played in 84 games for the San Diego Padres during his rookie season. At just 20 years old, he showed the poise of a batter much older than himself and immediately made an impact on the Padres’ offense. In 334 at-bats, Tatis Jr. hit a respectable .317 en-route to 106 hits, 61 runs, 53 RBIs, and 22 home runs. In only half a season, he put up the type of production that is lauded out of seasoned veterans. 

Tatis Jr. was also able to gain a clear-cut advantage with his athleticism, running the bases with speed and keeping pitchers on their toes. Despite playing just over half the season, Tatis stole 16 bases and made it look easy. With that kind of production as a rookie, it is no wonder that so many experts were salivating over the potential he possessed. When his season was cut short, it was a blow to Major League Baseball. 

With all of his promise, however, there is cause for concern when it comes to Tatis Jr. on the other side of the plate, and those concerns could hurt the team when he isn’t up to bat. 

Is Fernando Tatis Jr. bad at defense?

Tatis isn’t entirely a lost cause at shortstop. At his best, he can provide insurance for Manny Machado on the left side of the infield. Those legs that help him get around the bases with lightning speed works wonders for him when he’s able to get the ball in a tight spot and throw it down the baseline. The same goes for his arm strength, which can help him get the ball to the base quicker and from long range. According to Ben Clemens of FanGraphs, however, there is a catch to that.

Clemens both acknowledges Tatis Jr.’s strengths and adds the caveat that the metrics show that there are weaknesses to his defensive game. With all of the great individual tools that can make Tatis Jr. exciting in the right moments, there are also glaring weaknesses to his game, such as his ability to fumble catches and routine ground balls. 

The Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. is one of the most promising young players in baseball; is he also a terrible shortstop?
Fernando Tatis Jr. | Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Tatis Jr. accumulated 18 errors on the season. Several of those were throwing errors, such as overthrows and bobbled balls. His conversion rate, which stood at 84%, is 3% below the league average. That is concerning, as it shows that he is just as likely to make a mistake as he is to make it onto SportsCenter that evening. While Clemens acknowledges that looking at errors isn’t a tell-all statistic, it is the context those errors occurred in that is concerning. 

Tatis Jr. isn’t just compiling errors on longshot throws in tight situations, he’s turning gimmes into bases for the offensive team, and that does not bode well for the future. 

Is it going to haunt him?

Tatis Jr. has his youth going for him. Just because he performed poorly as a rookie on the defensive end, it does not mean he will be doing that five years from now. He has the offensive tools and some individual strengths, which can be honed into consistent tools. Whatever the case, the numbers show that Tatis Jr. still has some improvements to make in the field, and if he can make them, his potential will be even greater than it is heading into 2020.