Fernando Tatis Jr. is one of the highest rated players in all of fantasy this year, with a case to be made for making him the number one overall pick. He offers an elite five-category toolset, multi-position eligibility, and enough upside and potential to be even better than he was last season. Alongside all of the positivity here, however, is a nearly equivalent negativity, as he does come with risk of injury that is serious enough to consider avoiding him altogether. Last season, Tatis Jr. missed 32 of his team’s 162 games, was placed on the Injured List three times, and was rumored to have dislocated his shoulder at least four times. The question that needs to be asked then, is should he have surgery to repair this problem?
Before we answer that, it’s important to understand exactly what the problem Tatis Jr.’s shoulder is facing right now. Looking inward, think of the shoulder as a ball and socket-type mechanism, that fits bones together like pieces of a puzzle. These bones, called the humeral head (tip of the humeral bone) and the shallow cavity (glenoid) are protected by pieces of cartilage that help not only keep them together, but also allow for a free-flowing and smooth range of motion.
Over time, the aggressive nature of playing baseball can take its toll on the shoulders, with actions such as swinging a bat ferociously or throwing the ball as hard as possible. These unnatural movements can either cause some of the cartilage to tear (which leads to the shoulder dislodging and being unprotected) or it can result in the shoulder itself moving out of the ideal spot, almost like a puzzle becoming disbanded. Further to that, there are levels to disbanding called subluxation and dislocation. The main difference between the two is this: during a subluxation, the humeral head of the shoulder becoming dislodged quickly, but goes back into place, while a dislocation means that the bone cannot go back into place on its own. It is important to note, that each and every time there is a subluxation or dislocation, the cartilage around the shoulder becomes hurt, bruised or stagnant. Once the cartilage is gone, there is little to not protection and/or safety to perform certain activities, and that is when the third level of seriousness, a tear of the rotator cuff, could happen.
In layman’s terms, here are the three stages of shoulder injuries, somewhat on a gradual basis of intensity and recovery. Keep in mind, any injured shoulder can skip one of these steps and move towards the most intense of them all:
Shoulder subluxation – ice, rest (includes not using shoulder for anything strenuous), strengthening exercises
Shoulder dislocation – closed reduction (putting the shoulder back in place), immobilization (e.g., shoulder in a sling), ice, rest (includes not using shoulder for anything strenuous), strengthening exercises
Shoulder tear – physiotherapy, modification of activities, anti-inflammatory medicine, exercises, surgery
As you can see, it goes along a gradual increase in the steps provided to help one heal from a shoulder injury. While subluxation is the likeliest of first steps, it still requires some time off in order for the shoulder to get back to a normal, pain-free state. As this continues, the dislocation is the next step in which the shoulder can’t put itself back in place on its own and some manual assistance is required. Further along this spectrum, once the pain and movement becomes too much to bare, the shoulder then begins to tear, likely around the rotator cuff, which is the group of muscles and tendons that keeps the shoulder functioning. Once that becomes torn, it is a massive step forward in the amount of work that needs to be done in order for a return. It gets to the point where the person injured is advised to not even move it and could need medication in order to make the pain tolerable. A surgery that typically requires six to nine months of recovery is the end result, which, even then, requires additional time in baseball terms to get back to the way things were beforehand.
Where does this leave us with Fernando Tatis Jr.? After all, last year both shoulder injuries required only the minimum time off, and he was able to return and provide MVP-like numbers? Yes, his time off was minimal, and yes, he did return as the game’s best hitter, but looking at the modifications made in-season, it’s a little bit worrisome. The first time he injured himself in 2021, he did so while swinging a bat. Look at the follow through here, and in hindsight, how reckless it appears:
Fernando Tatis Jr. left the Padres game tonight holding his left forearm after hurting himself on this swing
Prayers up 🙏
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 6, 2021
Focusing on the use of one hand after swinging and missing, it’s no wonder that he hurt himself there. I, by no means can do better than him, and am not putting him down, I’m merely pointing out that his shoulder was a problem and the reckless follow through seemed likely to happen given the speed, velocity, and ferocity of the swing. When he returned he made a change, making a more conscious effort to follow through with two hands, in a much cleaner, smoother, and fluid way as seen here:
"¡Ta…taaaaa…TATIS!" 🔊🔊🔊 pic.twitter.com/v7rsiOnokj
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 24, 2021
While he was able to keep himself relatively healthy at the plate, it was later in the year where he injured himself again, this time running along the base paths. Playing with his all-or-nothing mentality, Tatis has never been one to shy away from leaving it all on the field. Alas, he hurt himself in doing so, trying to make something positive happen:
— Jim Russell (@JimRussellSD) July 31, 2021
Again, he missed minimum time despite the dislocation, but then became the team’s new right fielder with the occasional turn in center field and short stop. Essentially, the Padres made the modification again for him, this time with the glove, because they saw the potential for injury to be less. After all, in the outfield, your arm isn’t needed as much to make quick throws to get runners out, and he could utilize his speed and instincts to track down fly balls.
Here are some other stats to help decipher what to do with Tatis Jr. going forward:
- after injuring himself on July 30, Tatis Jr. recorded only two more stolen bases for the rest of the season
- within this timeframe, he only attempted to steal three bases
- upon returning from his first injury, he went 16-69 over his first 19 games back with the new swing
- despite being eliminated from the playoffs, the Padres continued to give him everyday at bats and starts
So where does that leave us for 2022? It was reported before the lockout, Tatis Jr. was NOT going to have surgery this offseason, and was going to let his shoulder heal itself on its own. Had he received it, an approximate timeline of five months would have been in the cards, with an unknown adjustment period when he eventually resumed play in-season. Either decision would have been a big gamble, since he is the Padres’ long-term piece of the puzzle whose health should be protected, but San Diego is in contention to compete in 2022. It would have been a win-win (or lose-lose, depending on how you look at it) situation. Still, Tatis Jr. feels confident in his offseason plan, has said that his shoulder feels as great as ever, and scientifically speaking, it is possible for the ligaments to fully heal on their own. It was a well-informed decision:
AJ Preller was asked what kind of conversations he had with Fernando Tatis Jr. regarding whether or not to get offseason shoulder surgery: pic.twitter.com/x05dOK2mX0
— 97.3 The Fan (@973TheFanSD) November 10, 2021
For me personally, I would have opted for the surgery, since the timeline for it to heal would have aligned perfectly with the start of the season. With an impending lockout, (which most people predicted) this would have been perfect timing to have the surgery, and to develop and implement a recovery plan with team personnel before coming back. That being said, nobody knows his situation more than Tatis Jr. himself, who has said on many occasions that he is ready to go. Some people are actually born with the genetics of shoulder instability, and this could be a part of who he really is. Perhaps his make-up is that of a person who will always suffer from this, in one way or another. And he may have foreseen the lockout happening, and thus knew he would be granted additional time off. Nonetheless, I truly believe at some point in his career, the end result will be surgery in order to fix the problem. A shoulder should not be this loose, this dislodged and/or this prone to injury. The only fix is for the surrounding area to be repaired, ensuring safety when using the shoulder as vigorously as baseball demands.
I turned to the Twitterverse in order to get a feel for if and when people would be willing to draft him. Unsurprising to me, the results were very much in favor of him being worth his ADP:
Since February 1, 2022, Fernando Tatis Jr. has an ADP of 1.97, with a min/max of 1/5.
What is your confidence level in drafting him at his current cost? How scared are you, given his injury history?
— Dave Funnell (@sportz_nutt51) March 5, 2022
When I say that these results weren’t surprising, it’s not due to the lack of awareness for his situation physically. People everywhere understand the nature of the game and the possibility of him missing time. That said, when he does play, he provides elite production all over the place and also provides multi-positional eligibility, which is always a helpful trait. There were some very good points brought up in the the replies that helped solidify the notion to draft him, such as doing so in smaller leagues and in leagues with FAAB. Both points of view make sense, due to the fact that anyone who does roster Tatis Jr. should have a backup plan in place.
As for my personal 2022 redraft value, as opposed to his dynasty value which should be among the elite, I would lean towards not drafting him, despite his high-end production during an injury riddled season. Keep in mind that I personally am risk-averse, and I prefer the safe projection over the risk of having nothing. After all, the unknown of when and where the injury will take place, could lead to holes in your fantasy lineup that can’t ever be filled. While it was fortunate that his time missed in 2021 was minimal, it sounds like he is on the gradual upswing of extended time off, as the shoulder and surrounding areas continue to suffer. On top of that, he wasn’t aggressive on the base paths after his second injury, leading me to believe he may tone his game play down a bit this season. With the lockout happening, we do not know how his offseason has been, thus we are left in the dark for now. He may have been able to give it the rest that was needed in order to put him on track for a full season. However, even if he is fully healthy, you’re getting him at pick number five (the latest) in drafts since February 1, 2022, so there is virtually no discount there. At best, you’re getting him at his value, but at worst, you’re losing your number one pick for an unknown amount of time. Ultimately, it’s not about IF he will require surgery, but more so WHEN he will require surgery.