First Pitch: Should Jose Tabata Be the Everyday Right Fielder?

Jose Tabata has been better against right-handers than Travis Snider so far. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jose Tabata has been better against right-handers than Travis Snider so far. Photo Credit: David Hague

So far this season the Pittsburgh Pirates have been using Travis Snider most of the time against right-handers. However, when a lefty is on the mound, Snider is on the bench. On the season Snider has just eight plate appearances against lefties. Guys like Jose Tabata and Brandon Inge have been getting the starts in right field, with Tabata being the go-to guy, and Inge only starting during a time when Tabata was hurt.

Even though the Pirates are going with a platoon role, a case could be made for Tabata to be the everyday right-fielder. Snider has a .287/.356/.404 line in 94 at-bats against right-handers so far. Tabata has a .340/.426/.489 line in 47 at-bats against right-handers. Tabata went 1-for-3 against left-hander Erik Bedard tonight, while Snider went 0-for-2 against right-hander Jose Cisnero.

In each case you’ve got a small sample size. Tabata’s success is only in 47 at-bats, while Snider is posting decent numbers in twice the playing time against right-handers. There’s also a disclaimer with Tabata’s numbers. He’s been a streaky hitter throughout his career, going on extreme hot streaks, only to bring his numbers down with an extended cold streak. His success so far could be just another hot streak that won’t be sustained.

The problem here is that you need to give Tabata a chance. His numbers might be the result of a small sample size. They might be just another hot streak that won’t last. But if you don’t give him a shot to prove that wrong, you’re not going to ever get to a point where you can be comfortable with his numbers.

Tabata and Snider are both in the same situation. They were former top prospects who have struggled in their time in the majors. Tabata is six months younger than Snider, so they’re both around the same age. They both have struggled to hit for power in the majors, and at this point their value seems to be a number two hitter with good on-base skills (although Tabata is hitting for power against right-handers in a SSS this year). So there would be no reason to prioritize one over the other, unless the priority went to the hot bat.

I’m not sure that Tabata should be handed the starting job in the way that Starling Marte is the starting left-fielder. But I do think Tabata should start seeing increased time against right-handers, taking about two-thirds of the overall playing time in right-field while his bat is hot. If the bat cools down, or if Snider’s heats up, adjust that playing time accordingly.

The Pirates have been getting great offense from Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin, and the first base platoon. They’re already getting OBP from the right-fielders, which is great for the number two spot, and makes the top of the lineup look strong. If Tabata can continue these numbers, he could only increase that production from the number two spot, which would only be a bonus for the lineup.

Snider has already been benched against lefties this year. He’s doing a good job of getting on base against right-handers, which is good for his role as a number two hitter. However, Tabata is doing a better job against right-handers, and adding some power to go with the increased OBP. Until that stops, the Pirates might want to consider giving Tabata more starts against right-handers.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.

**Check out the new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 4: Are the Pirates For Real? Plus a Jameson Taillon Interview.

**Prospect Watch: Glasnow Continues to Strike Everyone Out; Karstens Rehabs.

**Pirates Lose 4-2: Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Burnett Still Good at Baseball.

**Pirates Notebook: Burnett Takes Mound As NL Strikeout Leader.

**Chase d’Arnaud Heading to Altoona For the Next Step of Rehab; Thumb Feeling Good.

**Reid Brignac Traded to the Yankees.

**Luis Heredia Close to Joining West Virginia.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Pitching Duel Dud In LSU, Four Hits For Moran

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

    The RF platoon is working. Breaking it up in order to learn that it won’t work over the long-term only wastes Snider’s contribution.
    One way to increase Tabata’s AB totals: Give McCutchen and Marte additional off-days.

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

      Are you saying you’d rather decrease the playing time of the two best hitters on the team, rather than decreasing Snider’s playing time against right-handers, even though he’s only hitting for a .760 OPS against RHP this year?

      • maguro

        Why would you base playing time decisions on a microsample like Tabata’s 47 at bats against righties this year? What purpose does it serve? We’re still at the point of the season where 3 hitless games in a row would take Tabata’s OPS against righties below .760, do you give the job back to Snider then? It all seems pretty reactionary.

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

          I mentioned it was a small sample size.

          But how do you go from a small sample size to a large sample size without playing time?

          • maguro

            He’s getting playing time. He has 82 PA and Snider has 114 so it’s not like he’s riding the bench Ciriaco style. If he continues to outperform Snider, I’m sure he’ll start to get more playing time. But we’re talking about a guy who had a .614 OPS on May 10, and now after a couple of good games, he needs to be the every day rightfielder? Let the job share play out for a little while before awarding the job to anyone. Snider’s been hitting better than Tabata pretty much all year, but as soon as Tabata gets hot for a week and passes Snider’s OPS, he wins the job? Doesn’t make any sense.

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

              What I’m saying is that they’re both pretty much in the same situation, so why not ride the hot bat until that stops. What doesn’t make sense about that approach?

              • maguro

                What’s wrong with it is that hot streaks have basically zero predictive value. It’s managing by the gambler’s fallacy.

        • Kevin_Young

          If I may…Tabata does have a career 278 BA against righties and 253 against lefties. He’s always been better against RH, so if he’s made a real skill improvement then it only makes sense for him to bat against RH

          • maguro

            That’s a big if, considering Tabata had a .614 OPS as recently as 10 May. He’s basically been terrible all year, then had two big games last week and now he deserves a full time job. Whatever.

            • Kevin_Young

              I see both RF’s as big ifs…our hope is that one of them hits their potential. But, my point is that your 614 OPS is a much smaller sample size than my 278 BA

              • maguro

                Well, yeah, I don’t necessarily see either one as an everyday player. Which is why the Pirates need to keep playing both and try to work the matchups to to their advantage.

            • Kevin_Young

              Yeah, but what sucks is that I think they mostly step on each others toes as far matchups go.

      • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

        Yes. I advocate giving Marte and McCutchen more rest days.

  • joe g.

    Technically it is a platoon, but this platoon speaks more to the equal talent level of the two players. Tabata is hitting a little better. Snider is considered to be a little better in the outfield. It’s like having co-starters in RF. I’m betting that Tabata will get more starts against RH pitching as the season continues.

  • Curtis

    Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that this site was arguing the opposite, that Snider should start against lefties also?

    I agree that each player deserves a chance to shine through regular playing time. But making that judgment based on these tiny sample sizes is silly (especially when each player has career numbers, including MLB numbers). My take: Tabata had his chance last year and blew it, badly. Give Snider the RF spot every day for 2-3 months and really see what you have there. If you have nothing, make the switch. But this is the only way that you are going to know.

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

      Tabata was hurt at the time and they were playing Inge in RF.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.smalley.35 Andrew Smalley

    At this point, both are playing well and both seem to be getting plenty of playing time and, any change based on samples thus far, is essentially guess-work. For all the things that I believe Hurdle has screwed up (bullpen mgmt, playing Brandon Inge, bunting incessantly, fascination w/ McDonald, etc), I think RF has been handled pretty well.

    However, regardless of whether you prefer Snider or Tabata, I think all reasonable people agree that it should be *one* of them. Today, Hurdle has Jones in RF and Sanchez at 1B, despite no evidence that Sanchez can actually hit RHPing. Plus, you’ve made your defense worse in RF as well by playing Jones over Tabata.

    Just when you think Hurdle is figuring things out, he changes the rules…on himself. Frustrating….

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

      Yeah, I have no problem with either one getting playing time. As I said, they’re both in similar situations (young, former top prospects, haven’t worked out in the majors yet, both putting up good OBP this year). This is just a question of “which one should be the primary RF?”

      I don’t like any lineup that includes Gaby Sanchez starting against a RHP though. No reason for that when Snider or Tabata would provide a better all around lineup.

      • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.smalley.35 Andrew Smalley

        Agreed. I wrote a piece earlier saying that GFJ and Gaby should be thanking each other for their existence, because w/o each other, both would be terribly flawed players. Not only is the platoon great for production, but it is *absolutely* crucial for each player to have worth. Neither Jones nor Gaby can hit same-handed pitchers. In fact, neither can look even remotely comfortable. Sanchez pops everything up and is late on each swing, while Jones rolls over to the right side or swings at pitches in the dirt.

        The fact that Hurdle is guaranteeing that Sanchez faces a RHP today is beyond the pale. It’s just ridiculous roster mgmt when you have Tabata just sitting on the bench.

  • moose7195

    For some reason, I just don’t believe in Tabata. Last year was painful to watch as he showed how out of shape he was on his way to the minors/DL. I’ll admit he looks like he is in better shape, and he is playing better. But the scouting report on him has changed every year. He went from power hitter to a hitter for a high average only to see him become a hitter that couldn’t hit his own weight. So forgive me for not trusting his 340 average, but this guy hasn’t put a together a consistent season since his rookie year.

  • IC Bob

    Why break whats working? Leave the situation alone. As it is both Snider and Tabata can’t play 10 games without getting hurt so each will get plenty of opportunities to hit against pitchers from the same side.

  • ianmonk

    Simply put, I think Snider and Tabata are competing for the RF job. I feel whomever continues to be productive with the time they have will see a majority of the time as the season progresses. On another note, I feel Tabata could hit with power more consistently if he would tweak his stance slightly.