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A History of Hating On Jose Tabata

It seems as if fans and the team have given up on Tabata Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

It seems as if fans and the team have given up on Tabata
Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports


For many Pirates fans Jose Tabata is at best an afterthought and at worst, a last resort. The once shining prospect who made the Xavier Nady trade a clear win has fallen out of favor with just about everyone. He had nearly as many plate appearances in AAA last year as he did in the Majors. The still young Venezuelan once seen as a potential top of the order fixture and a key to right field didn’t even project in Pirates Prospects’ Indianapolis outfield. Instead, many seem to be inserting Andrew Lambo into that final bench spot in the Majors, but he’s not helping himself with another slow start in spring.

So let’s play a quick game of mystery quadruple slash. It’s a lot like triple slash except I’ll throw in OPS at the end. You know the rest of the rules to this game. I’ll list a few players’ stats from the 2013 and 2014 combined seasons and you try to figure out who is who and make a decision about which one you like best. I’ll then completely blow your mind when I reveal who’s who. Ready. GO!

Player A: .246 AVG / .278 OBP / .377 SLG/ .655 OPS

Player B: .242 AVG / .320 OBP / .391 SLG/ .711 OPS

Player C: .245 AVG / .306 OBP / .386 SLG / .692 OPS

Player A is Andrew Lambo albeit in a very small sample size. Player B is the now departed and recent home stretch hero, Travis Snider. For Player C, I tricked you. It’s not a player at all, but rather a statistical composite of all of the NL’s fourth outfielders over the past two seasons. If I were to give a name for Player C, it’d be Joe Context, because without him we don’t know who’s good or bad. Without him we’re essentially farting into the wind anytime we try to say a player is good for this role. As a fourth outfielder the last two seasons, Tabata outperformed Context posting a quad slash of .282 AVG / .328 OBP/ .394 SLG / .722 OPS while also posting a low strike out rate. Tabata’s 2013 was also fifth amongst all NL fourth outfielders over that two year stretch. I bet your mind is blown.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Tabata is well qualified to be the fourth outfielder on this year’s version of the Pittsburgh Pirates and would provide an upgrade to just about any other team in that department. When I consider that he would provide a right handed bat to back up a left handed sophomore in Gregory Polanco, who has struggled to hit southpaws in his first season in the majors, he makes sense for roster composition. If he’s a good player relative to others in his role and makes sense for the composition of the Pirates roster, why are people not giving him a chance? When did the hate begin?

It hasn’t always been this way for Tabata. He was generally portrayed as a sympathetic figure in the bizarre story about his cougar wife stealing a baby. While premature, his 2011 extension was seen as a team friendly one where the player left a lot on the table. People thought he loved Pittsburgh, he was moron or some combination of the two. In a Q+A shortly after the extension, super blogger Dejan Kovacevic then of the Tribune-Review called the terms “ridiculous” when comparing it to what Andrew McCutchen might accept in a long term deal. In spring training of 2012, players and media alike were still riding the Jose train. This quote from McCutchen comes from Rob Biertempel piece from 3/12/12.

“When Jose is locked in, he’s almost able to play around with the pitcher. It’s almost to the point where he’s joking. He’s that type of player. He’s capable of doing some great things.”

Kovacevic included Tabata in a group at the top of the Pirates order that could generate a great deal of contact and provide the cornerstone for any offensive success the team might have that year.

Amidst high expectations, Tabata did exactly what you can’t do; get off to a slow start. Players are under a magnifying glass at the beginning of the year because they don’t have a full season of numbers to hide their slump. It didn’t take long before fans were questioning his ability. A rough April was followed by a rougher May when questions shifted from “can do” to “want to.” Tabata was benched on May 18, 2012 for lack of effort and it’s really been the narrative on him since. According to reports, Tabata was afraid of aggravating a nagging hamstring injury and overall frustrated with his performance, but he couldn’t figure things out in the Majors. The damage was done. Joe Starkey’s 2013 resolution for Tabata?

“I will try.”

Since then, he’s spent a lot of time on I-70 between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. He had an up and down 2013 season, but was up in the final two months of the season before Starling Marte was hurt and Marlon Byrd was acquired from the Mets. He hit .312 with an OPS of .831. In many ways, he did exactly what Snider did the following season, but fans and media alike seemed to overlook it. It got so bad that Bob Smizik was his lone defender. Of course, who in the Pittsburgh media is more stuck on baseball card stats like batting average than Smizik?

Outside of his batting average, Tabata’s 2014 wasn’t much to brag about and with the arrival of Polanco, he fell further down the depth chart. Unless the highly regarded prospect flops, Tabata is unlikely to be more than a fourth outfielder. With his once perceived team friendly deal, the Pirates are basically getting what they paid for. Still, there aren’t many backing him for that role now even if he’s better than average in it.

It could be that club and player are biding their time till they bid each other farewell. Tabata still has two years and roughly $9M still owed to him from the Bucs. It almost seems inconceivable that any of his option years will be picked up. In the end Tabata could leave Pittsburgh looking for his second contract as a newly minted twenty-eight year old.

Looking back, it seems like Tabata’s career with the Pirates came off the rails in the space of about a month and half and he was never really given much of a shot to recover. Some of that came from the franchise’s wealth of outfield depth. Some may have come internal displeasure with the player himself. After all, they traded for Byrd after Tabata had one of the best months of his career. With Snider departed, Tabata might make the most sense as the fourth outfielder. Let’s hope he’s at least given a chance.

Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.

1 Comment on A History of Hating On Jose Tabata

  1. I’ll pass on having Tabata as the 4th outfielder. He hits well enough to be a reserve outfielder, but he offers no other value. none. He is a poor defender and offers no value as a baserunner. Every other bench player who is projected to open the season on the MLB team is right-handed, so it makes little sense to have Tabata over Lambo, especially since Jose’s contract basically offers the team “unlimited options” as he will pass through waivers and accept his assignment to Indy. On the big league squad, there are already 2 guys who can play RF against lefties in J-Hay and Sean Rodriguez, (3 if you count Hart, which I don’t because I think he can play outfield anymore) so tabata doesn’t really offer too much in terms of versatility, either.

    You are correct in asserting that the hate for Tabata around town is over the top, and he has shown the ability to be a roughly league-average hitter , which has value. But as it stands, he offers no value in terms of positional flexibility, defensive ability, or baserunning, so the team will do what it should do, and outright him to AAA and call him up later in the year when someone else gets hurt.

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