Making a case for San Diego Padres’ shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to win the 2020 NL MVP Award.
For the first time since Chase Headley was nominated in 2012, the San Diego Padres have a candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player award.
Not just one candidate, but two.
Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and third baseman Manny Machado were extraordinary in the shortened 2020 season, electrifying both San Diego, the team, and San Diego the city with their thunderous power and intoxicating swagger.
Both men are expected to go toe-to-toe with Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts when the Baseball Writers Association of America reveal their ballots.
For reference, the last time San Diego had an MVP candidate was the aforementioned Headley. In the history of the franchise, only Ken Caminiti brought home the award in 1996.
While both Tatis and Machado are equally deserving of the award, the younger Tatis exploded into stardom in his sophomore season despite undergoing an extended slump in the final month of play.
Even with the cold streak to end the season, Tatis was a statistical darling at the plate. In 59 games, Tatis posted a .937 OPS with 17 home runs and was third in the National League in Wins Above Replacement at 2.9, just behind Betts and Freeman.
The power was real as well. Tatis raised his ISO from .272 in 2019 to .295 in 2020 and made 13% more hard contact in the shortened season (54.9% in 2020 against 41.9% in 2019).
According to Statcast, Tatis was one of the league’s most efficient hitters. Baseballs shot off of his bat at an average of 95.9 MPH while he barreled said baseballs at a rate of 19.5%. Both of these rates were in the top one percent of the league.
With the restructured Padres coaching staff’s help, his defense did a complete 180 from 2019. After posting a minus-13 OAA (Outs Above Replacement) and committing 18 errors in 2019, the 21-year-old phenom rebounded with a plus-seven OAA and just three errors in 2020.
That is not what makes Tatis such a special player, though. The numbers are amazing, yes. But what makes him stand out is the ability to do the impossible with the biggest of grins on his face.
Tatis doesn’t follow the “unwritten rules” that have shadow-dictated the game of baseball for decades. Instead, he marches to the beat of his own drum, emphatically flipping his bat after hitting a home run and dancing in the dugout amongst his teammates.
Think back to Aug. 17 when Tatis, on a 3-0 count, lined a laser beam 407 feet to right field off of Juan Nicasio. With an exit velocity of 109.8 MPH, the ball flew out of Globe Life Field and upset the entire Texas bench.
Thus sparking a debate on the “unwritten rules” again, but this time, a vast majority of the baseball world was on Tatis’ side, a sign that the winds of change are blowing.
That is because a slew of Latin American players has begun a crusade of playing the game unapologetically loud and enthusiastically. The leader of the crusade? None other than Tatis himself.
Despite all of the praise that can be heaped on the budding superstar, his chances of capturing the gold dimmed as the season progressed due to the slump he endured in the final months of the season, posting a .714 OPS in September after a white-hot 1.057 OPS in July.
Even if he didn’t undergo a slump, Tatis faces the double-edged sword of having his teammate Machado running for MVP as well. Yes, it is fun to have two Padres go for the gold, but it also means the votes will be split amongst the two infielders.
Plus, Betts’ strong season in his new home and the story of Freeman returning from a bout of coronavirus will make it difficult for Tatis to bring home the award.
The MVP award always goes to the most exceptional player. Those exceptional players can change a game with one swing of the bat or perhaps change the sport’s very narrative.
It will be a long shot, but don’t count Fernando Tatis Jr. out for NL MVP.