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Taking a look at Jose Tabata’s speed

Leading off the top of the second inning in the Pirates’ 14-inning loss to the Reds on Monday, Jose Tabata hit a comebacker that Mat Latos knocked down and easily threw on to first for the out.

It was a harmless play, one of little significance in a game that would ultimately go down as an extremely frustrating defeat for the Bucs. However, Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout tweeted the following after the out.

I nodded in agreement when I read the comments, as they were similar to some of my own observations from the recent past. About two weeks ago, I wrote the following on Twitter after Tabata grounded out to first.

I was thinking of the post Charlie linked to when I made those comments, in which Bucs Dugout commenter MarkInDallas created a video which showed Tabata running home-to-first in four seconds flat. Going home-to-first in 4.0 seconds is near elite speed for a right-handed batter. In fact, in the same clip, we saw Andrew McCutchen running the same distance at essentially the same speed. On his ground out in the August 27th game, I had grabbed a stopwatch and quickly timed Tabata going down to first. I measured it a few times and came up with various results in the range of 4.35 – 4.4 seconds. That is barely average, maybe even slightly below average.

Charlie’s comments on Monday reminded me of plans I had previously made to put a stopwatch to a few more of Tabata’s trips between home and first. I started with the comebacker he hit in Monday’s loss. I was pretty surprised at the result the first time I timed him. So I timed him again. I timed him a third time. I kept replaying the ground ball, and the results remained the same. He was somewhere between 4.0 and 4.1 seconds each time I measured it. That is a plus runner, somewhere around a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. I was shocked at the results. Thinking that I was maybe just a little too slow starting the clock, I went back to the 2010 video and manually timed it. (I don’t quite have the technology that Mark did, which allowed him to measure more precisely by counting frames.) I came up with similar results, with times in the 3.95 to 4.05 second range.

Surprised by my initial results, I took a look at video of some other Tabata ground outs. On September 4th, he grounded out to third in the fifth inning. I had him in the 4.1 to 4.2 second range on that play. On August 24th, he hit one sharply at third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the first. He hesitated slightly coming out of the box, which led to a home-to-first time around 4.2 – 4.3 seconds. He grounded out to second in the third inning of the Pirates’ 19-inning win over the Cardinals on August 19th. Tabata looked extremely slow to me on this play, but the results were in the 4.1 to 4.2 second range.

I should add that none of these plays were all that close, so Tabata generally was easing up a bit in his final step or two. In the video from 2010, Tabata was barely thrown out, and was running all out the entire way. I went back and watched a few more videos from 2010, and could not find another at-bat during my brief search in which Tabata was close to the four-second mark. That ground out in Mark’s post on Bucs Dugout was probably his absolute best home-to-first time.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? I think the main thing to take away is that Tabata is generally running a bit more quickly than he appears to be. He simply does not have a running style that is all that aesthetically pleasing. That was the main takeaway in the 2010 video, when he surprisingly matched McCutchen down the line, and it is probably the most important thing to remember here.

In addition, after looking at some of these various ground outs from 2012, I would say that Tabata has probably slowed down a bit from when he was a 21-year-old making his big league debut. However, his speed has not dropped off nearly as much as I expected. He was probably a 70-75 runner when he arrived in the big leagues, and he is probably closer to a 65 now. That is still well above average, particularly for a big league player that is growing older and maturing physically.

Tabata is probably going to slow down even more as he ages and his body continues to fill out, particularly when you consider all of the nagging leg injuries he has experienced early in his career. Despite the surprising results I came across in writing this article, I am still convinced that his game will need to evolve for him to regain the ability to be a productive big leaguer. He is already seeing regression in some of the speed-based aspects of the game that he excelled in when he was younger, such as defense and base running. As an extreme ground ball hitter, I am not optimistic about his ability to hit for a high average in the future either. In order for Tabata to be an everyday player, he will have to learn to get the ball in the air more often and rely less on his speed to reach base.

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Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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  • leadoff

    Huntington said on his Sunday show that Tabata has slowed a bit, did not give any specifics.
    IMO, there are aspects of running where Tabata has slowed much more than just home to first.
    I don’t know what he weighs vs what he weighed 2 years ago, but he appears to me to be more filled out.
    I would like to see the timer when he tries to steal 2nd? He usually gets thrown out by 10 ft.
    In other words, track timing is a lot different than baseball speed, just like it is in football.
    Tabata IMO, has slowed considerably when it comes to overall baseball speed. The Pirates did not move him from a large left field to a smaller right field for nothing.
    His directional speeds are much different also, he seems to run sideways much faster than back and forth. I realize some people go to their left or right faster, in his case the differences seem to be drastic.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Stolen bases aren’t entirely on speed. They rely more on getting a good jump, acceleration, and instincts, such as knowing how to read a pitcher. The Pirates have a lot of fast players who are bad at stealing bases for these reasons.

      • leadoff

        I agree that a slow guy can steal a base once in a while, but speed helps and fast guys do get more stolen bases as a rule.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

        Agreed. I’d like to see more of a focus put on this in the coming off season. While it’s unlikely that McCutchen will hit .350 every year, I don’t think there’s any reason that he shouldn’t be getting 30+ steals a year. Now, whether this is something that’s a matter of hiring the right coach or simply Neil getting real with the individual players, I don’t know. However, given the speed of some of the individual players, this team should have a considerably higher success rate.

  • leadoff

    The video shows him running before he hit the ball!

  • john.alcorn

    Nice work, its amazing how often perception and reality don’t match up when the story is regarding disappointment or distaste.
    Now can you debunk that he is fat and out of shape?

  • Lee Young

    Whether fast of slow, he should never try to steal a base again until he gets some proper instruction.

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      Thank you. Same with Walker, McCutchen and everyone else. Stay put, since you can’t read a pitcher and steal a base for the life of you.

  • wtmiller

    Here’s Tabata’s infield hit percentage:

    2010: 13.3%
    2011: 8.4%
    2012: 6.4%

    Major league average is about 6.4%.

    My guess is that in 2010 he was about a 70 runner, but now he’s maybe a 60-65 runner at his best, but on average is probably a 50 runner.

  • Frank

    He’s fat–what do you expect? I’ve been saying that all year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.vargo.35 James Vargo

    A slow Tabata is worthless. No power.

  • ChickenOnTheHill

    Jose Tabata is a poor player. What skills or attributes does he bring to help the team win? A declining batting average, ZERO power, poor baserunning skills, a sub-par arm and maybe average defensive coverage in the OF. Add this to the fact that he’s reportedly not the best guy in the clubhouse and has an attitude problem (http://triblive.com/sports/2108811-85/pirates-tabata-hurdle-yesterday-burnett-rhp-runs-barajas-game-games#axzz26YJeBiEH) and I can’t figure out why Tabata is on the team.

    People will defend him and say that he “used to be a top prospect” and that “the Yankees were very high on him”… This was FIVE seasons ago. That’s an eternity in baseball, even for a player who doesn’t have questions about his real age.

    With Marte, Snider, McCutchen and Presley ahead of him on the depth chart, plus Garrett Jones on those off-nights where he plays RF (especially if Sanchez develops), it’s my belief that the only thing keeping Tabata on the 40 man is the ridiculous contract extension he signed. He’ll need to be looking over his shoulder next season as well; don’t be surprised to see Brock Holt shagging some flyballs down in Bradenton… if he keeps hitting, they’ll need to find him some ABs, and he’s not going to unseat Neil Walker.

    • burgh_fan

      Enough of the age stuff. There is as much evidence that he is older as there is evidence Cutch is a space alien.

  • James S

    The saddest part to me is that it has taken two whole years for most of the basic Pirates fan base and even the Pirates evaluators to finally see what was clearly visible by the end of 2010 – that Tabata has no power, no speed, no base running skills, is poor on defense, is a loafer, and pretty much adds nothing to the team overall and in reality takes away from the potential success of the team.

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