Javier Baez vs Fernando Tatis Jr.: Who’s the better shortstop?

With Fernando Tatis, Jr. making a visit to Chicago’s north side, a battle of sorts has ensued with fellow shortstop Javy Baez. Who’s the better player?

One weekend can’t possibly answer this question, but the start of the 2021 season has been an excellent one for Baez and Tatis, with the two seemingly jockeying back and forth for the title of best player at their position in the game. For Baez, that title is twofold, as he’s hitting free agency after the season.

Tatis, Jr., meanwhile, reset the market along with Francisco Lindor for young, power-hitting shortstops, making them arguably the most valuable commodities in baseball.

The one advantage Baez may have is durability. He’s played in over 138 games every season but one since 2016, which coincides with the Cubs first World Series in 108 years. The only reason he didn’t reach that feat in 2020 is because, well, there weren’t enough games to play. He did manage 59 out of 60, though.

MLB news: Durability aside, Fernando Tatis, Jr. is a more capable shortstop than Javy Baez

Tatis and Baez are both error-prone on the infield, so those numbers essentially cancel out. Both players have tremendous range, but often try to do a bit too much. Their teams will sign up for the highlight-reel plays and prowess at the plate, however.

Baez had a 2020 to forget, and has thankfully bounced back in a big way this season. His .208 batting average and .262 BABIP were his lowest since 2014 as a rookie. 2021 has featured a more balanced plate approach, and harder contact at a higher barrel rate. That, of course, equals better power numbers across the board.

We’re happy for Javy, really. He’s too capable of player to struggle at such a high rate, and going into a contract season needed a big statistical campaign to receive the money he covets this coming offseason. He ought to receive a lucrative deal, following in the footsteps of, say, Lindor. But he is not on the same plane as Tatis, Jr. right now.

It’s early, but Tatis’ first 177 career games at the plate are arguably better than Mike Trout’s, with a slightly lower (.05) batting average. There’s a reason the Padres signed him to a 14-year, $340 million contract after just 143 regular season games.

As mentioned, he’s wild in the field (14 errors so far this year), perhaps previewing a future position switch as he ages. But the man has power to all fields. His oppo power is a full .200 points higher than anyone else in baseball so far this season. Baez is fourth on that list, which is cute.

The only factor making this a debate is longevity, and I get that. Until Tatis, Jr. plays 692 games in six seasons, that has to be discussed.

To put it simply, Tatis and Baez have very similar range and fielding mechanics. They’re capable of anything, in both the best and worst of ways. But at the dish, Tatis, Jr. has a higher walk rate, strikes out far less and contributes at a more consistent clip power and contact-wise.

Don’t blame me, blame the stats.