The breakout season of the San Diego Padres‘ Fernando Tatis Jr. did more than put him on baseball’s radar. With the 2020s underway in a most unprecedented fashion and a younger generation bucking baseball’s unwritten rules, it made him the clear choice as MLB’s Latino Face of the Decade, as determined through a joint Hispanic Heritage Month collaboration between ESPN Deportes and FiveThirtyEight.
Fittingly, Tatis introduced himself to postseason baseball with two home runs and and one magnificent bat flip Thursday night in an 11-9 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that evened the best-of-3 NL Wild Card Series at a game apiece.
ESPN’s formula measuring performance, feedback from within the ESPN family, internet search interest and social media presence — plus fan votes on social media — gave the 21-year-old shortstop from the Dominican city of San Pedro de Macoris 104 points. Atlanta Braves Venezuelan outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. was the runner-up at 90 points. National League batting champion Juan Soto, who like Tatis is from the Dominican Republic, followed with 88 points. Veteran Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor of Puerto Rico rounded out the top four at 86 points.
All current major leaguers from Latin America, who represent close to 30% of MLB rosters, were eligible for the ESPN honor.
“I’m truly happy and thankful to God for the gifts that he has given me,” Tatis told ESPN. “I’m happy for what I’ve been doing, for how the fans have received me. I’m going to be stepping it up so I can stay at the same level, perhaps reach a little higher.”
ESPN’s multiplatform initiative to determine the Latino Face of MLB involved a poll of 30 ESPN journalists and personalities, along with separate rankings based on advanced value metrics, Instagram interactions and Google searches. It also included fan voting on four ESPN Twitter accounts as a potential tie-breaking measure.
FiveThirtyEight, which specializes in analyzing political, economic and sports data, put together the formula that ended up pointing to Tatis as the game’s most prominent Latino player.
It was with the ESPN expert panel and in the statistical index where Tatis scored highest, collecting 25 points in each category. He earned 24 points based on his Instagram popularity and added 20 more through Google searches. Finally, his win in the fan vote handed him the maximum 10-point bonus.
Tatis made waves on Aug. 17 in a road game against the Texas Rangers. With the Padres leading 11-3 in the top of the eighth inning and the bases loaded, the shortstop missed the take sign on a 3-0 count and swung away for his second homer of the game and first career grand slam.
Afterward, Tatis said he learned a lesson about running up the score and would consider taking the pitch in the future if faced with a similar situation, but the slam served to reignite the debate over culture and baseball’s unwritten rules. Nevertheless, the Padres star had his share of veteran supporters, such as teammate Eric Hosmer, as well as players on other teams, such 2019 AL batting champion Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox.
Thanks in part to Tatis, the Padres finished second in the NL West at 37-23 and are participating in the postseason for the first time in 14 years. He completed his second season in the majors second in the NL in home runs (17) and runs (50), and was top five in FanGraphs WAR (2.9), RBIs (45), stolen bases (11), and total bases (128).
His 2020 also earned the second-highest projected WAR for a 21-year-old shortstop over a 162-game span in MLB history at 7.7, behind only Rogers Hornsby’s 10.2.
Tatis’ Padres No. 23 jersey finished fourth overall — and first among Latino players — in sales during the abbreviated 2020 MLB season.
“This is just the start of what we want to do in a season, but also of what I want to accomplish in my career,” said Tatis, a second-generation star whose father played 13 seasons in MLB.
The 22-year-old Acuna’s highest tallies were 24 points from experts, 23 from Google searches and 17 for Instagram presence. The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 All-Star finished his third regular season with 14 home runs and an OPS of .987.
Soto, who like Tatis is 21, led all of baseball in OPS (1.185), slugging (.695) and OBP (.490) on his way to becoming the youngest batting champion ever in the National League (.351). He collected 21 points apiece from three categories — experts, stats and Google searches. However, the reigning World Series MVP was the only candidate in the top four to miss the 2020 postseason.
Four-time All-Star Lindor, at 26 the oldest in the top four, had his highest scores among experts (23) and Instagram presence (22).