Shoulder Injury Leaves Tatis, Padres Hoping For the Best

The Padres used this past offseason to gear up in order to face the Dodgers on equal terms and end Los Angeles’ streak of division titles at eight. One key element in that plan is the presence of Fernando Tatis Jr., the team’s superstar shortstop, who the team recently inked to one of the richest deals in sports history — a 14-year, $340 million pact. But as the poet Robert Burns once wrote, the best-laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry; in this instance, a mighty swing through an Anthony DeSclafani knuckle-curve on Monday night, resulted in Tatis doubled over in pain on home plate.

Though there’s currently no word how much time Tatis may miss, any absence would be a blow to the Padres and to baseball, too, as he’s one of the sport’s brightest, most marketable young stars. It’s no fun for the owner of the troublesome left shoulder, either, particularly given how Padres manager Jayce Tingler described the injury after his team’s 3–2 loss to the Giants:

[It] comes out, comes back in, and so he’s been dealing with that, and obviously tonight, it was the first time we’ve kind of seen it in game action from swinging or anything like that. So, we’ll see how it goes tomorrow, but he’s going to get more tests tomorrow.

Tatis’ shoulder was acting up during the spring, so it would be hard to describe this as a completely isolated incident, though this is almost certainly the worst one. The injury has been diagnosed as a subluxation, which is a partial dislocation of the shoulder. The pain itself was clearly bad enough, but the larger problem is that the type of injury has a high rate of reoccurrence. While this condition isn’t necessarily traumatic or painful — one of my closest friends had a similar hip condition in high school, and it was only occasionally excruciating — it’s a bit of a problem for someone who makes his living swinging very hard at baseballs. Some experts in the field have already discussed, from afar, the possibility of surgery, which could endanger Tatis’ 2021 return. And while the prognosis is less bleak for hitters than it is for pitchers, shoulder injuries can be problematic long-term.

UPDATE: Padres general manager A.J. Preller announced before Tuesday’s game that Tatis would be placed on the injured list, but that surgery would not be required. Per The Athletic’s Dennis Lin, Preller said that Tatis has a slight labrum tear but that his physical exam was “pretty uneventful,” and that the team will go the “rest-and-rehab route” with the hope that Tatis is ready to return in 10 days.

The resulting consequences of Tatis’ injury are largely unknown at this point, as this happened just last night. But we can probably put some kind of bounds on it: He certainly won’t be in the game on Tuesday, nor did DeSclafani’s pitch literally retire him. Let’s first run some projections for the Padres, based on games through Monday evening, on the NL West both without the injury and in the worst-case scenario that Tatis misses the rest of the season.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Los Angeles Dodgers 99 63 .611 56.9% 40.9% 97.8% 14.8% 0.0%
San Diego Padres 98 64 1 .605 43.1% 53.0% 96.1% 12.3% 0.0%
San Francisco Giants 75 87 24 .463 0.0% 2.4% 2.4% 0.1% 0.5%
Arizona Diamondbacks 69 93 30 .426 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 5.9%
Colorado Rockies 63 99 36 .389 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 28.2%

The healthy projections are still quite close to the ones to begin the season. While a lot can happen in a week, both of the NL West front-runners have played solid but not spectacular baseball against the division’s lesser lights. The Dodgers have a slightly better position, but ZiPS already expected them to have a slightly better record, given that they opened the season with a four-game set against the Rockies, the computer’s pick for the worst team in the majors.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West (Tatis Out for Year)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick Avg Draft Pos
Los Angeles Dodgers 100 62 .617 71.5% 26.6% 98.1% 16.5% 0.0% 28.3
San Diego Padres 95 67 5 .586 28.5% 61.6% 90.1% 8.9% 0.0% 26.0
San Francisco Giants 76 86 24 .469 0.0% 2.8% 2.8% 0.1% 0.4% 10.8
Arizona Diamondbacks 69 93 31 .426 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 5.4% 6.4
Colorado Rockies 63 99 37 .389 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 27.8% 3.4

Losing about 15% of your division-winning scenarios is a significant setback, but Tatis is a terrific player, so this is to be expected. However, a projected worst-case scenario still leaves San Diego at 95 wins, the second-highest total in baseball. They’d win five of baseball’s six divisions with that total. Unfortunately, the division they play in is that sixth one.

I’m not sure it could be classified as good news, but San Diego’s depth mitigates the effect of the Tatis injury. The team has Jake Cronenworth, Ha-seong Kim, and Jurickson Profar available to cover the middle infield, a situation that many teams would be happy with as the Plan A. Imagine if the Padres had instead made no plans this offseason at shortstop, and the team was forced to go with replacement-level talent at the position.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West (0-WAR Padres Shortstop)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Los Angeles Dodgers 100 62 .617 83.1% 15.4% 98.6% 17.9% 0.0%
San Diego Padres 92 70 8 .568 16.8% 62.5% 79.3% 6.1% 0.0%
San Francisco Giants 76 86 24 .469 0.1% 3.4% 3.5% 0.1% 0.4%
Arizona Diamondbacks 70 92 30 .432 0.0% 0.2% 0.2% 0.0% 5.2%
Colorado Rockies 63 99 37 .389 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 25.3%

A much worse plan B is enough to send the Padres down into the thick of the wild card race, to the extent that they’d have to fight with the Braves (at least in the projections) to get a guaranteed game at home in the playoffs. It’s even enough to get San Francisco’s divisional odds to round up to a non-zero number!

Other effects, such as loss of performance due to the shoulder problem, are a bit speculative at this stage. An injury like this is always unwelcome, but this is survivable for the Padres. But the best thing for San Diego and fans of baseball as a whole is for Tatis to return, swinging hard, and challenging for the NL MVP title. Even for Dodgers fans, wouldn’t it be more fun to beat your rivals when they’re at their best?





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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weekendatbidens
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weekendatbidens

I’ve had some similar happen 5 years ago and I still have a hard time with deaccelerating. Athletes care enough to recover properly and I think Tatis will be healthy, but like the article says about the repeatability of occurrence I’m well aware of how limiting it will be, especially if there was ligament damage. The pain is one that even the strongest will wince thinking about it. I do hope he can get healthy ASAP but that power might not be so good this year until he is fully confident in his shoulder.

mikejunt
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mikejunt

This is exactly the same thing Cody Bellinger had happen a number of times and that he had surgery to fix this offseason. For Tatis, I think the long-term worry isn’t super large: he can probably do the same as Bellinger and get it done this offseason and be fine next spring. But the question is whether and how much he can play this year without re-injuring the joint, as every incidence is an opportunity for a more severe injury with longer recovery outlooks (like labrum damage)

norcalblue
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norcalblue

Mike I have tremendous respect for your analysis, you are one of the people I enjoy reading most here. That said, “exactly” seems a bit of a generalization here. Tatis’ injury seems to be a direct result of performing baseball activities in a way he is most comfortable. Bellinger’s dislocation–not so much.

For Tatis’ sake, I hope he rehabs and returns in a way that is in his personal best interest. We all want to see his brilliance on the field for many years.

mikejunt
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mikejunt

Yeah, you’re incorrect. Like Tatis, Bellinger had the problem for several years and encountered it on field (usually fielding). Only the last incidence involved non-play events, and like Tatis it was more likely due to previous occurrence

For example see : https://www.mlb.com/news/cody-bellinger-will-no-longer-play-first-base

norcalblue
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norcalblue

I do recall a game in San Diego where he was a base runner, dove back to first on a pick off attempt and the shoulder popped out.

mikejunt
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Member
mikejunt

Yep. Like Tatis, the earlier incidents weren’t too serious and I dont even think we heard about them all, but after the playoff bump and it’s impact on the world series, he got the surgery. It sounds like Tatis is in a similar position, but with a whole season to navigate in between and hope he doesn’t do it again, and, from some of the tweets I read, it sounds like there slight labral damage, which isn’t great – it’s when it happens and in the process something else gets damaged (rotator cuff/labrum etc) that it is a really big problem. Bellinger got surgery in December and was late starting spring training but otherwise is just fine – but the risk between now and then for Tatis is that he might do it on any swing or any time he dives to that side – that was Bellinger’s problem, the dive directly onto his side in the infield caused it a couple times.

Shortstop is better in that they have more reaction time and so tend not to be moving exactly perpendicular to the ball the way that 1b/3b diving to the side on a quick reaction are (where you can most easily land on the shoulder with your arm above your head), but also probably has more opportunities to do the diving, so .. hard to say how that balances out. I don’t know that we ever heard for certain that Bellinger had no labral damage, but the relatively short turnaround on his surgery implies he did not (labrum repair has much longer rehabilitation than 4 months or whatever).

It’s a tough spot for the Padres and Tatis since, on one hand, you have 14 years so you have many opportunities and don’t want to risk anything, but on the other hand I’d say there’s a good chance that 2021/22/23 each represent some of the most competitive teams the Padres will field in Tatis’s contract (just by probabilities: these Padres teams are stacked, and in order to have significantly better ones in the future, they’d need to have a later stretch on par with what the Dodgers have done recently, which is .. historically pretty rare). The contract length counsels for conservatism, but the team quality does introduce some urgency – I’d say it’s reasonbly possible, even likely, that we’ll be able to look back at the end of Tatis’s career and see these first few years as the best teams he played on (because a 95+ win true talent team is -really- good).