In just 143 games, Fernando Tatis has lit up Major League Baseball and is on track to make MLB history in some way. Tatis has starred as a hitter and a fielder, racking up 39 home runs, a 155 OPS+, and a positive defensive WAR. In the abbreviated 2020 season, Tatis earned Silver Slugger honors at shortstop, and he finished fourth in MVP voting.
Moving forward, he should be one of the faces of baseball with his boisterous style, bat flips, and slick-fielding.
With a player as good as Tatis at such a young age, it can be fun to take a look at other players who took Major League Baseball by storm.
One way to analyze is similarity scores, a statistic developed by Bill James in the 1980s.
Similarity scores are purely statistical analyses. To see the comprehensive formula for similarity scores, go to Baseball-Reference.
MLB History No.1: Vern Stephens
Stephens played shortstop and third base for the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox. He retired with eight All-Star selections and nine seasons that he received MVP votes. In 1945, he became the first shortstop in either league to lead the league in home runs.
For his career, Stephens tallied nearly 1,900 hits and 247 home runs. He finished top four in MVP voting three times, and no primary shortstop beat his career home run mark until Ernie Banks. Stephens posted a respectable OPS+ of 119 for his career.
While Tatis will hope to eclipse the accomplishments of Stephens, eight All-Star appearances are nothing to scoff at. Stephens had 10 straight seasons with an OPS+ of 110 or better, the same career mark as Mark McGwire and Adrian Beltre.
No.2: Carlos Correa
Correa broke onto the scene, winning the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year. Since 2015, Correa has been a reliable contributor to the Houston Astros. He has 17 playoff home runs and an impressive .869 OPS which beats out his regular-season numbers. In the regular season, Correa has only played two full seasons: 153 games in 2016 and 58 of 60 games in 2020.
While health has been a concern, Correa’s on-field performance has not. Even in his worst hitting season, an OPS+ of 92 in 2020, Correa was one of the better defensive shortstops in MLB. He has posted a minimum of 1.1 dWAR in all six of his seasons.
Correa is only 26, and he likely has a decade (or more) of baseball. The future’s still bright for the former top pick.
No.3: Garry Templeton
In Templeton’s first full year in the Majors, he was named an All-Star, finished 13th in MVP voting, and racked up 200 hits. After six years, two All-Star games, and a Silver Slugger in 1980, Templeton was included in the package that sent Ozzie Smith to St. Louis.
Templeton played for the Padres for a decade, adding his third All-Star nod and his second Silver Slugger. He never cracked 100 OPS+ like he did three times with the Cardinals, but he was a generally reliable fielder (+10.3 dWAR), and he was even feared enough to be intentionally walked 20 times in three straight seasons. He is one of just 21 players to have three seasons of 20 intentional walks.
Templeton did not have the most illustrious of careers, but he did play nearly 2,000 games at shortstop which was enough to draw some attention and make MLB history.
No.4: Mike Caruso
Caruso was one of the pieces in the White Flag Trade between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox in 1997. Caruso eventually came up with the White Sox in 1998. In 1998, Caruso stole 22 bases and had an OPS+ of 90, finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Caruso had one more full season of being the White Sox’s shortstop, but after 1999, he played just 12 more games in the Big Leagues, featuring with the 2002 Royals. In that stretch, Caruso posted a -36 OPS+ across 21 plate appearances.
No.5: Jim Fregosi
Fregosi played 18 years in MLB, spending time as a California/Los Angeles Angel, Texas Ranger, New York Met, and Pittsburgh Pirate. As the primary shortstop for 11 years for the Angels, Fregosi made six All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove, and received MVP votes in eight seasons. From 1963-1970, Fregosi averaged over a hit per game, posted a 119 OPS+, and field sturdy defense for the Angels.
In December of 1971, Fregosi was traded for Nolan Ryan, and Fregosi’s career slipped while Ryan became one of MLB’s icons. Over his final seven seasons, Fregosi played only 68 games per season.
He was an above-average hitter, but he struggled defensively at third base. Fregosi had a solid MLB career, but Tatis will look to have more sustained success.
No.6: Alex Rodriguez
By the time Rodriguez entered his age-22 season, he was already a two-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and an MVP runner-up. Rodriguez redefined what it meant to play shortstop over the following seasons. In just the 10 seasons, Rodriguez was the everyday shortstop for the Mariners and Rangers, he slugged 345 home runs and had a mammoth 144 OPS+.
He coupled dominant hitting with generally steady fielding (+6.5 dWAR in Seattle, +2.8 dWAR in Texas) to become the greatest shortstop in MLB history. Just as a shortstop, Rodriguez made seven All-Star Games, won seven Silver Sluggers, won a pair of Gold Gloves, and was named 2003 MVP.
As a third baseman from 2004-2016, Rodriguez tacked on 351 home runs, two MVP Awards, and a 136 OPS+. If not for PED laundry, Rodriguez would be one of the easiest first-ballot Hall of Famers in MLB history.
No.7: Starlin Castro
Castro has played 11 seasons to this point, bouncing around from the Cubs to the Yankees to the Marlins before settling down as with Washington. Castro has a quartet of All-Star nods. Castro had a 200-hit season at age-21, and he would likely be on pace to join the 3,000-hit club if 2020 had been a normal 162-game season.
Castro has a career 98 OPS+. He had been a generally unspectacular shortstop before moving to second base in 2016 with the Yankees. For his faults, he averaged 147 games played in his first 10 seasons. Only Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Elvis Andrus played in more games from 2010 to 2019.
No.8: Arky Vaughan
Vaughan is the first Hall of Famer on the list. He played 14 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers. Vaughan managed to slash .318/.406/.453 as a shortstop for his career. His OPS+ of 136 trails only Honus Wagner and the aforementioned Rodriguez among primary shortstops in MLB history.
Even with the shortened career, Vaughan is fifth among shortstops in WAR and fourth in WAR7, JAWS, and WAA. He led the NL in walks three times and won a batting title. He had one of the most dominant hitting seasons of the 1930s with a 190 OPS+ in 1935. The only players in the decade to surpass that were Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx.
No.9: Dick Bartell
Bartell was the predecessor to Vaughan, playing shortstop in Pittsburgh from 1927 to 1930. Bartell then went to the Phillies for four seasons before establishing himself with the New York Giants. Bartell played eight seasons with the Giants in two tenures, earning MVP votes thrice and making the 1937 All-Star team.
Bartell missed two seasons to World War II service, but he had an otherwise solid MLB career. He had a respectable 96 OPS+, and he had an all-time season in terms of the war in 1936. Had Gold Gloves existed in Bartell’s time, he likely would have won several.
There are players more accomplished than Bartell, but he had a solid 18-year stint in the Majors.
No.10: Bob Horner
In 1978, Horner went from being the first pick in the draft to Rookie of the Year without playing a game in the minors. Over Horner’s 10 seasons, spent primarily with the Braves, he had 10 seasons with an above-average OPS+. He spent most of his career at third base, but he spent time later in his career as a first baseman. Horner only made one All-Star team, but he was a consistently solid hitter. He was a fairly pedestrian defender (-62 fielding runs), but when he was on the field, he produced. Horner’s problem was his health as he only played in 140 games twice.
After just 10 seasons, Horner announced his retirement in large part due to a collusion scandal that rocked baseball. Without the contract disputes, Horner would have built upon his 1,047 hits and 218 home runs.
Time will tell if Tatis hits the highs of Rodriguez or Vaughan, but through two seasons, Tatis is off to a roaring start.
Follow me on Twitter at @MrSplashMan19 for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
main image credit Embed from Getty Images