Fernando Tatis Jr. has been the Padres’ most consistent hitter this season. So how much longer should he bat leadoff?
The leadoff batter in a lineup has evolved immensely over time.
Hall of Famer Tim Raines was the poster child for leadoff hitters of “back in the day,” but he never hit more than 18 home runs in a season and stole at least 50 bases in eight seasons.
In 2019, the skill set of a leadoff hitter is entirely different. Now players like George Springer (25 HR, .969 OPS, 5 SB) and Charlie Blackmon (24 HR, .976 OPS, 2 SB) top their respective lineups. It’s less about speed and getting on base before the power hitters and more about getting your best hitter the most plate appearances possible, period.
Fernando Tatis Jr. has largely been San Diego’s best hitter, so in “2019 logic”, it’s a no-brainer that he is the Padres’ leadoff hitter. With a .326 average, 22 home runs and a .994 OPS, it’s no debate he deserves to be at the top of the Padres lineup. He even adds that speed factor that made Raines so dominant in his prime, as Tatis has 14 stolen bases.
Tatis has led off in 58 of his 79 games this year and recently, has been extremely exciting starting games with leadoff home runs. He has six leadoff home runs this season, the most by any Padres hitter ever. His fifth leadoff homer, in Seattle on Wednesday, landed in the lap of yours truly.
That's SIX leadoff jacks for @tatis_jr.
Twenty. Years. Old. pic.twitter.com/N0cWyWYyMd
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) August 9, 2019
With Tatis hitting for more power, with an OPS of almost 1.000, wouldn’t he be better-suited batting second or third, to allow a base runner or two to get on?
Let’s compare him to the Astros’ Carlos Correa in 2017, when he was an All-Star with 24 home runs and a .315 average as a 22-year-old shortstop as Tatis is having a similar season offensively. Correa hit fourth for most of the season, albeit with a much more loaded lineup. Their lineup usually went George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman before Correa.
The first question that comes to mind is who would replace Tatis at the top? It would need to be someone who is almost as tough of an out, which is hard to find in San Diego’s lineup aside from Manny Machado, who has bat third the entire season, which fits him well.
If the Padres wanted to move Tatis to bat second, who would replace him as the leadoff hitter? In a perfect world where prospects turn out exactly how they are projected, it would be Luis Urias. In Triple-A, he was Mr. On-Base. He does have a .318 on-base percentage despite his ghastly numbers at the plate otherwise. However, there are signs he is coming to life. In his six games in August, he is batting .333 with a .874 OPS and 147 wRC+. Those are leadoff hitter kind of numbers.
Of course, Urias will have to show he can sustain his solid August as he has capitalized on being the eighth hitter in the lineup for most of his brief time in the majors. Now is probably not the time to experiment with his placement in the lineup since it looks like he may be finally finding a groove.
Manuel Margot has swung it well. Since July 1, Margot is batting .271 with a .974 OPS and six home runs in that time. Margot possesses the speed and tools to be a quality leadoff hitter if he can consistently get on base.
Ideally, Tatis with all of his talents and abilities at the plate would bat with runners on base. Runners distract the pitcher and make him vulnerable, which would only tip the scales more in Tatis’ favor. Plus it would give him a chance to drive in more runs.
At the moment, it does not seem like the Padres have a viable replacement for Tatis at the leadoff spot. He is their best player, and you want your best player getting as many at-bats as possible. The Padres need to beef up their lineup for Tatis to be able to slide to the second or third spot in the lineup.
Unless Urias or Margot show further consistency, Tatis should lead off for the rest of the season. However, it would behoove the Friars to look at other options to lead off in 2020 to allow Tatis to bat with runners on base and potentially even do more damage than he is already doing, which should send shivers down the backs of every one of the other 29 Major League Baseball teams.