Yesterday, Jose Tabata put one on the roof of the batting cages over the left-field fence at Pirate City. Today, he added two more. By that pattern, he should hit three over the high fence in left in batting practice tomorrow.

It’s only batting practice, but the power to left field is surprising. Tabata didn’t hit any home runs in 186 plate appearances in the majors last year, and didn’t have any in 163 plate appearances in the minors. He had 13 homers in almost 1100 plate appearances in the majors from 2011-2013, but only two went to left field. Here is his spray chart from 2014, taking out all grounders, pop ups, and singles (via MLB Farm).

Jose Tabata Spray Chart

That’s a lot of going to opposite field, and not much pulling the ball. So to see him pull the ball for power two days in a row was surprising.

I asked Clint Hurdle about this after practice, to see if the team had Tabata focusing on a different approach this year. Hurdle said that the approach isn’t specifically for Tabata to pull the ball, but to create some drive in his swing.

“It was always a forward-down stroke,” Hurdle said of Tabata’s swing. “Slow line drives, a lot of ground balls have come off his bat.”

Tabata has a 59.9% ground ball rate in his career. Last year the league average was 44.8%. There’s not really a good way to compare the speed of his line drives to the rest of the league, but we can get an idea from the numbers. Last year he had a .500 BABIP on line drives, and an .097 ISO. The league averages were a .683 BABIP and .190 ISO. That means Tabata is seeing fewer line drives drop in for hits, and his line drives are generating much less power than average.

Hurdle said that the Pirates suggested to Tabata that he should talk with former teammate Marlon Byrd about a specific adjustment which could help Tabata.

“Marlon Byrd made an adjustment a few years ago,” Hurdle said. “He went down to Mexico, re-created his swing, incorporated — I don’t like to use the word ‘lift’ — but actually some leverage to his swing. We talked to Jose about increasing a little bit of leverage into his swing. He’s worked very hard with that throughout the winter, and brought it into mini-camp. I think the reps are just giving him a better feel for it, and he’s shown a liking for it, and understands the reason why we’re asking it from him.”

The talk with Byrd wasn’t when he was with the Pirates in 2013, but came during the past off-season. The two didn’t work together, but just had a conversation so that Tabata could get an idea of what adjustments Byrd made. The goal isn’t for Tabata to have an upper cut swing, or a chaotic hack at the ball, but to hit it with a marginal angle to give him a bit of leverage.

“He had the same problem as me,” Tabata said. “He figured it out, and he now is one of the best hitters in the big leagues. He changed everything. So I’m trying to do the same thing as him.”

Tabata said that he’s trying to hit the ball harder, pull it a bit more, and that he’s trying to get stronger.

It’s way too early to tell whether this adjustment will work for Tabata. I don’t even know if he can crack the Opening Day roster. The Pirates created an extra bench spot when they traded Travis Snider. Andrew Lambo seems to have the inside track for the job, especially since he’s left-handed, and provides a different look. But Tabata is owed $8.75 M over the rest of his contract, which is only guaranteed through the 2016 season. You can bet that if he starts hitting for power in games, and starts putting up numbers, the Pirates will find a way to get him to the majors to see if that change is legit.

“He wants to find that game he had a couple of years ago,” Hurdle said. “I believe he’s lost a few pounds. His agility work has been very diligent and very hard. I believe he’s come in hungry. It’s the best shape he’s come in. It’s the best focus that he’s had. That doesn’t mean it was ever bad before. It’s just, there comes a point in time where you get a little bit hungrier, you get painted in a corner a little different way. There’s a little more fight on your hands.”

**Hurdle announced the pitchers for the Black and Gold game on Monday. Each pitcher will throw one inning, and the game will last five and a half innings. Here are the pitchers for each team.

Black: Nick Kingham, Josh Wall, Collin Balester, Charlie Leesman, Adrian Sampson, Wilfredo Boscan

Gold: Arquimedes Caminero, Deolis Guerra, Jeremy Bleich, Angel Sanchez and Blake Wood

**Hurdle was asked about how he would manage to get all of their pitchers innings this Spring. He said that they already have one B-game on the schedule, and are hoping for a total of four this Spring, which would give pitchers more chances at innings. He also said that relievers who have a spot locked down will likely pitch multi-inning appearances in minor league games at Pirate City, which would allow the Pirates to get a look at the guys battling for spots in Major League games.

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40 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve never completely bought into the Marlon-Byrd-reinvents-himself-in-Mexico narrative. More than any swing change, I think he did what many old guys do; sell out for pull power. Strikeout, fly ball, and pull rates all jumped…and as you’d expected, so did his power.

    But Tabata most certainly could use a little bit of that influence, whether it really is mechanical or simply approach-driven.

    • Judging on how stark Byrd’s change was I think it is reasonable that there was a seminal moment when he altered his approach/swing.

      Tabata just watched too much national baseball coverage and thought Jeter’s approach was the pinnacle of hitting.

      • I didn’t state that first sentence very well. Yeah, whatever happened definitely occurred in Mexico.

        I’m just not as convinced it was learning to hit the curveball or some life-altering swing change as much as it was simply selling out for pull power.

  2. I know its a popular stance right now to write off Tabata, but it wasn’t long ago when a lot of people had the same opinion of Josh Harrison. Tabata is still relatively young and I still think its going to click with him someday – and hopefully that isn’t after the Pirates give up on him. If he has changed some things in his swing, maybe the desired results will come for him. It certainly seemed to revive Byrd’s career – who has peaked well into his 30s. It would be a nice problem to have, if Tabata can become a viable option for the Pirates OF again. If Polanco struggles against lefties, maybe Tabata could platoon in RF -and spell Marte in LF at times?

    • I’m fine with Lambo getting that shot, if for no other reason than to have a lefty bat on the bench.

      The guy who I’d be watching closely is Corey Hart. I hope he has something left, certainly. But I’d rather have Sean Rodriguez be Pedro’s platoon partner than the Corey Hart who took the field last year, even when he was healthy. Hart becomes a literal anchor on the bench if his knees are shot.

      If Tabby can add even a bit of power to his game, he becomes an interesting bat real, real quick. Well above average contact rates over his career, to the point that even adding average power to his game turns him into a starting option. See 2013.

      • Many people forget the 2013 Tabby had I feel. Without him doing what he did the last 2 1/2 months, I’m not sure the Bucs make the postseason. He was also solid prior to that hand injury he suffered late in 2011. Basically, he just had an abysmal 2012 and a powerless 2014 (still hit .280). I agree with even average power he can be a starting OF, or at least a pretty good 4th OFer. I don’t feel confident in Hart either, but he will be on the team to start. Which makes it Tabby or Lambo, and I’d take Tabby.

  3. Tabata could win a spot on this team, they don’t have a right handed hitting 4th outfielder that he can’t beat out, unfortunately he is not on the 40man and left handed hitting Lambo is, even though Lambo still has 2 options, so beating out Lambo will have to be decisive, this might be a good ST battle.

  4. I have always felt a little sorry for Jose. When the Bucs acquired him, he was married to a leech of a woman twice his age. He’s gotten out from that, and maybe he has gotten over the beaning too. Believe me, if he shows any in-game power in ST, there will be no trouble trading him at his salary. Look for Toronto or Arizona to be keeping an eye on him – both are a bit lacking in the OF right now. And there’s always the Phillies, who seem to be willing to pick up almost any former Bucco.

    • That whole woman thing was a mess and really even though he was “young” it kind of showed his immaturity. He also walked out on his team in the minors once. I think he has matured but he should have…he may be old enough to be Polanco’s dad.

    • Ha! I was thinking it. If I was a chemist and I made PEDs I would name them after famous roid users. It is just good marketing. The Cansecex, A-Roderol. or Sosatosterone, or even Ryan Braun’s Jewish Pride Kosher HGH. I’ll be here all week.

  5. His hitting is not the only problem. It’s also the chronic hamstrings and the inability to get to (or judge?) flyballs that drop in front of him.

    • You are right. It is surprising that he really isn’t more than fringe-average out there anymore. Maybe he is 35 years old!

  6. Intriguing that they guy who has essentially been sucking money out of the organization might get his act together. I remember the potential 15-15 guy they thought they had when they signed him to his contract. That beaning he took a few years ago hurt his head a heck of a lot more than physically…. but the baby-steps coming back have been frustrating. Would be nice if he could play himself into at least some trade bait with some value.

    • He really hasnt been sucking money out, or at very least he is sucking what amounts to a backup bench player. Which was the great part of that deal…that he could be sitting in AAA and not killing the team with his deal until at most his last few years. Him becoming a guy you can DFAd and get to AAA was actually great for the team, since it could use him as a week call up guy if an injury pops up.

      • Mostly agree. He has contributed at least but a 3-5 million dollar 5-6th OF is not the most cost effective option. I’m sure they would have loved to have someone claim him. Tabata might be driving I-70 a lot through next season…although he has the money to take the puddle-jumper.

    • He stole 35 bases in 49 attempts his first 190 games. He is 12-27 since then. 1 steal last year. The apparent speed decline is shocking for a “26” year old. I wish I could put the quotes in giant bold print.

  7. I have been in Bradenton, and I have witnessed the new power stroke of young Mr. Tabata. He has been damn impressive in camp, and from what I saw, he is also extremely popular with his teammates.

    • That is good to hear. I don’t think Tabata really fits long-term, but if he makes himself a useful player, his contract isn’t terrible. He has some talent, a really good contact skill in particular, but even though he doesn’t whiff often, he just never did anything with the balls he hit.

      If he’s found a way to turn all that contact into hits, especially if he’s making those hits authoritative, he could turn into a fringe starter, which some teams would be willing to take on. His contract wouldn’t look as bad to another team, who could give him somewhat regular playing time, as it does to us, since we just have so much outfield talent.

      Heck, even a good spring and early-season showing could spark some interest from teams who have trouble filling their outfields and a little extra money to spend. I don’t think we’ll get much back for him in the way of assets, but the payroll flexibility would be nice.

      I haven’t given up on Jose yet, he’s shown flashes of talent and productivity at the Major League level, but he is far too one-dimensional, and if he’s fixed that, he’s not just a waste of dollars anymore.

      • It was a weird season last year. He hit .280, the same he hit the year before, but slugging down .100. OPS was down .130 from 2013 to 2014. It’s taken time to come back, but I can’t figure out last season’s regression. I hope someone has.

      • I don’t put a ton of stock into this story yet but if Tabata does have more power suddenly I feel like they definitely need him and he probably could beat Lambo out. I doubt it but it is possible.

  8. See, even Hurdle admits that Tabata can only hit slow line drives and grounders. He has never had any lift in his swing. He routinely lines out into double plays more than anybody I’ve ever seen. I’ve been saying this for years. I can’t even bear to watch him bat with men on base.

    His drives are always right about between the uniform letters to slightly above the head of the opposing fielder, and almost all are catchable, and they usually are caught. How long can a guy keep doing the same thing over and over and failing constantly before he decides to fix it? Why he has waited this long is beyond me.

    • He was literally messed up in the head after taking a beaning a few years ago. He couldn’t even stand in the box after he came back physically…. which is why he’s spent more time in the minors than the majors. You’re right… he was slap-hitting a lot last season — but that was after not being able to make contact at all. The problem is, before he got beaned, he was signed to a decent long-term contract and the Bucs had no choice but to roster him somewhere or eat the money. That’s why he’s spent more time in the minors than majors. He can play the outfield pretty well… and he was a 15-15 prospect at one point.
      Since, he’s been buried in the Bucs’ outfield picture and I hope he plays himself into at least trade bait if not an option off the bench. We’ll see if the “head case” is over when he faces live pitching in real games… and sees a few pitches whizz inside at him.

  9. Didn’t take long for the first “He’s in the best shape of his life” comment from the manager

    UGH! Is it April yet??

    • Hope springs eternal. I will stick with the Yogi Berra “I’ll believe it when I believe it.” Those groundball rates are hideous for Tabata. No wonder I feel an ulcer breakout every time he bats with less than two outs and a runner on first late in a game. Then I looked at his 12 GDP in 186 PA last year and realized it was not just irrational fear.

  10. I’ll believe it when I see it, but if he can create some power, he would be a nice bench piece and extra OFer.

      • Well, one good thing is the worst thing that could come of this is someone might see him and want to make a deal for him. If not they can just stash him back at AAA again to start and hope he pounds the ball until they need him. He’s around a career 1.0 WAR player per full 550 PA or so…if he could show 10-15 HR power and a few more doubles he’d be a nice 4th OF for someone. He has the .275 avg and .336 OBP career. He just hasn’t shown enough power for a corner.

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