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.