On Friday I wrote about how Jose Tabata talked to Marlon Byrd over the off-season, aimed at changing his swing to add some leverage, lift the ball, and avoid hitting grounders and weak line drives. So far the results have been encouraging during batting practice, with Tabata now showing the ability to pull the ball, including several big home runs to left field during batting practice. While that is encouraging, there’s a huge difference between batting practice and the actual games.

Tabata is under contract for two more years, making a guaranteed $8.75 M for the rest of his deal. He is currently projected without a spot on the active roster, and will likely go to Triple-A to start the year, due to his past performance. Even if he does well in camp, the Pirates would be unlikely to keep him around, since that would result in Andrew Lambo going down, giving them no left-handed hitters on the bench.

That’s not to say that Tabata can’t play his way back on to the Major League squad. If an injury comes up during the season, he would be a top option to get the call with his contract. And if he does end up seeing better results with his new swing, that would only make it easier for the Pirates to call him up.

I talked with Tabata, Clint Hurdle, and hitting coach Jeff Branson about the changes to his swing. The focus here is to add a small amount of leverage, where it isn’t an uppercut or a hack, but a slight lift to avoid those ground balls of the past. Branson said that the focus for Tabata will be to still work to the middle of the field, but to find the outfield grass. Tabata discussed what went into his changes, and how comfortable he is with the swing now. The interviews can be seen in the video below, which also features video, including some up-close, slow-motion shots at the 54 second mark.

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58 COMMENTS

  1. The whole righty/lefty thing notwithstanding, Tabata was a better hitter than any of the other bench OF options. He was basically identical to Snider prior to 2014. I’m hoping for a Byrd like change to more pop, higher K rates. I’d like to see him make the squad.

    • One thing to add, Tabata has a career 99 wRC+ vs RHP, basically a league average hitter. He really hasn’t had much of a platoon split hitting 107 vs LHP. I’m not sure Lambo is even that good, he is at 78 vs RHP in an exceptionally small sample.

      • Very much agreed, although in the end I think it speaks to how little relative value there is to lose in a trial run for a 4th outfield/bench bat.

        If Lambo passes the 100 PA mark this season without showing much, and Tabby is showing actual power improvements at AAA, then yeah, pull the plug and go with your 25 best players. Still doesn’t mean 100 PA is enough to prove beyond a doubt if Lambo is “legit”, far from it. But at some point you have to accept that it could take much more than what a contending team can offer in playing time.

        If the 2012 version of Travis Snider were to step onto this 2015 club, similar to Lambo, there’s very little chance he would get as many PA’s as he needed in order to “break out” last year.

  2. Who would have thought Tabata would be getting all this hype the first of March. I have seen 3 more articles than I thought I’d see all spring already!

  3. Really well done, Tim. Love the additions of edited video to what you offer. Sooner or later you’re gonna have to start charging for this stuff.

    Anyone in camp talking about minor swing changes from Pedro Alvarez? He’s a guy that always seems to be working on something, especially in camp, and it looked to me like he’s dropped his hands a good bit in some BP video Bill Brink posted.

    • The coverage really has been great. I love the individual player stories backed up with video and commentary. Is it me or does it seem P2 has a little more access this year than in the past?

  4. He is a career .379 SLG guy. Even if this allows him to stay a .335 OBP player and he can become a low .400 SLG guy this would take him from a journeyman to a valuable extra OF. That would be great for the Pirates either with him as a contributor or in trade. I hope he goes to Indy and puts up an .800 OPS in April. The good thing about Tabata off the bench is he doesn’t really have too big of a platoon split so he does fine getting on vs. Righties.

    • All you need to do is look at 2013 to see what even modest power would do to his game.

      K’s, BB’s, and BABiP were all in line with career averages, but add in an ISO in the .140’s and all the sudden you have a guy hitting about 20% above Major League average.

      Certainly not a high-end starter when you combine that with below average defense and baserunning from a corner outfield spot, but also not exactly extra OF either on most teams.

      • Agreed…he doesn’t even have to hit many HR if he starts hitting a bunch of doubles…for the most part he was until last year. Really, there is reason for optimism because unless Lambo really looks good a per 600 AB 30+ double, 10 or so HR Tabata that hits .275 is a pretty decent player, especially when he could run. He’s had a little bit of Pedro Alvarez-like ups and downs…except when Tabata slumps he just hits into a DP every other game and kills a rally here and there. When Pedro struggles he looks like he just landed here from a planet far away and has never seen or heard of the game…pretty much the opposite of when the kids from Battlestar Gallactica came to Earth.

  5. I would like to see his old swing and his new side by side. It looks to me like his bat is quicker through the strike zone.

    • I had the same thoughts.

      I could see a generally more aggressive approach paying off even more than a change in mechanics. Looked like Tabata would get into ruts of being content slapping the ball to the opposite field.

    • His hands have always been really good, and his bat-to-ball skill is excellent. He takes an average number of swings outside the zone, and his contact rate outside the zone is roughly average, but inside the zone he makes contact 90% of the time. That’s not a lot of whiffing, especially on “hittable” locations.

      The problem has always been the authority. If he’s got any kind of authority with this new swing, coupled with that contact rate in the zone, he could turn into a nice player. 2013 Tabata isn’t that far in the rear view mirror, and that Tabata was a very serviceable bench bat/4th OF, and with anything resembling competent baserunning and defense, a fringe starter. At worst, 2013 Tabata is a player who could return a little value in a trade.

  6. If Tabby goes down to AAA and starts powering the ball all over the place, then, and only then, do I try to find a place for him on our roster.

    OR….maybe, finally, we can move him to another club?

    Until then, I’m not getting excited….at least at this point in time.

    • He would have to be absolutely tearing it up .. like 3 HR a game consistently for any one to seriously take a look. If he is hitting like that and not in the majors then that means the MLB team is doing really well. I’m sure the pirates would love to be out from his contract maybe if he is consistent through the year someone will take a flyer on him in the off season.

      also the word is that he is a cancer in the locker room… but personally i think it is just because he has been doing poorly and not living up to our or his own expectations. A little success at any level will hopefully help out with that issue.

  7. Assuming he shows the ability to drive the ball well consistently from gap to gap in ST, do the Pirates run the risk of having a team with a need for a RH outfield bat pick him up off waivers if they demote him to INDY? And is it even a remote possibility they ship Rodriquez off, and keep Tabata as a RH bat, since they have Kang doing what Rodriguez was signed to do?

    • Tabata is not on the 40man roster, someone has to come off for him to make the 25man. IMO, Rodriquez does not enter the equation, it is between Lambo and Tabata for the 4th outfield spot.

    • The 40-man isn’t a concern as far as needing to drop someone in order to get Tabby on the 25-man, as it almost never, ever is.

      And I think it might be a stretch to worry about a team picking up his contract based on ST alone, but if he were to carry decent production over to the show then yes, probably much harder to take him back off the 40-man without losing him.

      Maybe that’s what the Pirates want. But when it comes to replacing Travis Snider’s production last year, a Jose Tabata with slightly more power is most certainly the best candidate.

      • Especially if he is in great shape and he is physically sound. He gives you the decent bat and hopefully a little more defense than he has shown. Although nothing really shows he is more than average on defense. (Although someone may disagree.)

    • I definitely think this is a small possibility Scott…especially if Kang looks good and they feel confident in him to play a lot, but he only thing is I doubt they want to lose S-Rod after giving up a decent prospect for him. I think unless Tabata looks like a completely different guy he is going to AAA and then hopefully he plays great…then the team’s health and other teams’ interest will come into play.

    • I think they’d be thrilled if someone claimed him. That way they’d be off the hook for that albatross contract they signed him to. This IMO is the best possible outcome.

      In essence he has endless options until he shows he can hit.

  8. Personally I would like to see Lambo and Tabata battle it out in ST. the winner gets the spot. Tabata is more experienced and despite his problems still managed a very good career BA. I also like the right handed complement to Polanco. IMO, Lambo needs a chance that he will never get in Pittsburgh unless there is an injury, even then probably a platoon situation with a manger that will have very little patience with him. Tabata is the better pick if the two are relatively even at the end of ST. he can play off of the bench, Lambo needs the reps, think Brandon Moss, that is Lambo to me.

      • while true, baring injury that is why Hart and Rodriguez where brought in. Unless you are looking for an everyday first basemen… First base is not an issue when it comes to the 4th OF.

        Personally i think Kang will get more reps in the OF than the 4th OF (baring injury)

            • Why would you think it’s trolling? Kang is not an OF, and the Bucs have given no indication they will play him out there. Harrison, however, is, has, and will.

              • When Kang was signed there where (are) two big questions. First can he handle the transition to the MLB and his defensive skills. He may not cut it as an infielder in the MLB.

                Harrison is not an out fielder. He is an Infielder by trade and is the starting third basemen as of now. Mercer is the starting Shortstop and Walker is the starting second basemen. the only question in the outfield is if Polanco can rebound back and handle MLB pitching.

                If Kang hits he will be on the field where every they can put him at those positions. Filling in for who ever is slumping injured or just a day off. Maybe it is the Out field maybe its third. but if he is on the 25 man, they are going to get him as many at bats as they can to see what he can do.

                If Kang doesn’t hit then hey will use him at positions he is more comfortable with (2nd,SS,3rd).

                This all assumes he makes it out of spring training 😀

                • Just informing you of the facts thus far. Harrison has considerable experience as an OF, and has acquitted himself very well. Kang as of this point in spring training is not getting OF reps. They are using him in the IF. If they are putting both in the lineup it is more likely Harrison is the one asked to play OF.

                  • I read a report somewhere that i cannot find now.. so i could have had a dream about it that Kang was doing some in the Outfield while he was in Arizona with his Korean team and has experience at all positions somewhere along the line. I dont’ see it a reach that they would put Kang into the super-utility role Harrison filled last year unless/until another player plays there way out of the lineup.

                    Sadly I’m not in Florida this year, hopefully next year.

      • Lambo would be 4th on the depth chart to play 1st base, a 4th outfielder that can platoon or is more seasoned to come off the bench is more valuable IMO.

        • Harrison is the platoon RF if they choose to do that, so Kang can get some PT at 3B. Besides Tabata is not any better vs. LHP than RHP.

          When Alvarez goes into one of his slumps, they need a 1B who can hit RHP. Rodriguez is not that, and Hart might be the answer but we all saw how that “worked” with Gaby Sanchez last year…

          Rodriguez is not really ahead of Lambo on the 1B depth chart.

      • In terms of depth chart, both Lambo and Tabata would be on the team because of their bat, not where they play. Team has 2 1Bmen on the roster already, and enough depth that they really could use Harrison in the OF if needed in a pinch. So this discussion should be “who do the Pirates think can be the most effective in coming off the bench to hit”.

        • 2 1Bmen who hit same sided pitchers extremely poorly are not enough. They need a third man on the roster that can play 1B. This was as big a reason as any why Snider was moved.

          • No team needs 3 men on the roster than can play 1B, thats just (no offense) stupid. They need Lambo because he would give them a LH bat off the bench, not because he can play 1B. Hell, Rodriguez has played 1B in the event both Pedro and Hart go down. You dont carry 3 1Bmen because you need 3 men able to play that spot. Lambo makes the team because we need a LH on the bench, not because he can stand at 1B.

            Corey Hart is a career .290 hitter against LHP, so the idea that Lambo is needed doesnt make sense unless you are hypothesizing both he and Lambo get hurt.

            • Calling someone stupid is not really a good way to conduct a discourse with them. But with my previous interaction with you on BD, it does not surprise me at all…

              A team that has a full-time, two way 1B that can hit well against both sides of pitching does not need a third capable at the position. A team like the Pirates, that has two (or three if you consider Rodruguez as a 1B) extremely polar options, can benefit from this. If you watched the team last year and saw how often we were stuck with Gaby Sanchez in the late innings against flame-throwing RHRP after he was brought in as a defensive replacement and then we lost the lead and needed offense again, you will clearly see how this is important.

              Corey Hart is a .264 lifetime hitter against RHP, that is the relevant stat (not that batting average is ever a particularly relevant stat, but OK…) Lambo is needed if Alvarez gets hurt, or is double switched, or pinch hit for (since he is a platoon, and not a full-time, style of 1B) or is ever asked to play 3B. It gives them a second man who can reliably hit RHP, which is about 60% or more of all pitchers in the ML, and gives Hurdle much more flexibility considering we are a NL team. It’s really quite simple, I’m not sure why you can’t understand it.

              • I might cry. A .264 average against RHP is, by almost anyone not just ignoring things, adequate. There is no real reason to assume Lambo provides a sure fire upgrade from Hart against RHP.

                Projections: Lambo .249/.299/.431 with a 104 wRC+
                Hart: .254/.313/.417 with a 107 wRC+

                Hart and Lambo profile as similar guys overall, and history shows a healthy Hart is going to hit .260+ against RHP. So, there is no value for a 3rd 1Bmen when you have one that can hit RHP well and has plus power, with a backup that hits LHP very well and is around league average against RHP when healthy. At that point, Lambo is just a PH (which is my point) that almost never starts unless both 1B options go down.

                I think Lambo deserves a spot on this team, it just isnt as 3rd option at 1B. Its as PH who can spell Polanco. The team has been hinting that its thinking about getting starters more off days early on, so getting a 4th OFer and guys like Kang starts makes sense. Lambo, if he makes the team, will get likely less than 20 appearances at 1B.

                  • Have you been reading what point i have been making since the start of this? You are surprised at that point i’ve made at least 3 times? Yes, Lambo (as a LH bat) deserves a spot since they need a LH and he presents their best option as such, but the logic behind adding him should be that he is a decent LH option as a PH, not “yeah we could sure use another 1Bmen since we only have 2 right now”.

                    If and when they add Lambo, the bulk of his defensive time should come in RF. Use him mostly as a PH and if its a game where you gotta use him on defense, RF. I trust Rodriguez on defense about as much as i trust Lambo.

    • I’m sure no matter what is said Tabata has a chance. Most spots are set coming in but guys can still win a job by impressing in the spring…but they have to be exceedingly impressive. We have all seen Matt Hague’s huge spring a few years back and how it turned out to be a façade.

      • In Tabata’s case, he just has to be more impressive than Lambo, this is the 4th outfielder battle, I don’t see anyone else in it. Tabata has a very good shot when you consider that Polanco is one of the question marks coming into this season, of course everyone hopes Polanco is what his talent dictates he should be.

        • It’s not likely that the Bucs will want to have a bench without a LH hitter on it, especially since they only have 3 in their starting lineup.

  9. “…he would be a top option to get the call with his contract.”

    The $8.75 M is a sunk cost. The only reason why his contract should have any impact on whether he gets the call or not is that it is so bad that it is essentially buys “unlimited options” because nobody would take him on waivers, and if they did, all the better. Hopefully he plays because his play merits the opportunity and not because zero production from that contract would appear embarrassing

    • The whole “sunk cost” line of reasoning is easier to swallow when it’s someone else’s. When it’s your money, you try to maximize the return.

      • Once the salaries (costs) are set you maximize return by maximizing revenue, which happens when the best players play regardless of what you pay them. Playing the best players based on performance makes the best record, the best team chemistry and best clubhouse. Playing a player who isn’t the best because of his contract is foolhardy.

        • I’d say this is 99% true. As long as there is a chance they could trade him, or that someone would claim him on waivers, there is a way for those costs to be un-sunk. To do that he’d need to demonstrate (or imply, or suggest, or otherwise tease at) value that exceeds his salary. He can’t really do that at AAA. Yes, that is quite possibly throwing good [resources] after bad. But that is one exception to the rule above.

          If the Bucs believe Tabata is just as good as any of the other options, they might as well give him a chance to prove it. But I agree with the prevailing sentiment here that I don’t want to see him blocking someone who is better or will soon be better.

      • Good business is good business; nobody said it should be easy. The Pirates would be wise to apportion playing time based on performance and not on money owed.

        • Agree, but my point is Owners are funny about seeing their money wasted. Can’t say I wouldn’t be, too.

    • I don’t thin you can really call it sunk cost yet. Now last year’s 3 mil for -0.1 WAR…that’s sunk money. But the year before he made 1 mil for a 1.3 WAR which is fine. My hope is only a portion of the 8.75 mil is wasted because he either plays well in the majors for them at some point or he plays so well in the minors that they get him into a deal and get someone else to take at least half the contract. Probably false hope but it’s not like Tabata has ever played like garbage. If this tweak works maybe Lastings Milledge and Andy LaRoche should get on the horn with bird because they had some similar issues. I always thought Milledge and Tabata were nearly the same guy.

      • It is a sunk cost insofar as it is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. That is to say they owe him the money one way or the other and it is foolish to give playing time to an inferior player just so that they can “earn there contract.” That $8.75 M is spent already; now just give the playing time to player that merits the opportunity, contracts be damned.

    • Agreed on playing someone else better…and they have probably at least 3 guys better…but like Scott said it makes sense to get all you can out of it. Especially when there is no clear cut #4.

    • If he’s also showing signs of success, calling him up with hopes of him adding trade value may be motivated by his contract

  10. “Branson said that the focus for Tabata will be to still work to the middle of the field….”

    Has he been watching Tabata at all? Has he never seen Tabata’s spray chart? Tabata hasn’t been focused on working the middle of the field, he’s been focused on going the other way, and he’s been doing it since his second season in the majors. When he was a rookie he just hit the ball hard wherever it was pitched. In year two, for some reason, he started trying to inside-out everything, and that’s pretty much what he’s been doing ever since.

      • He hasn’t been trying to hit it to right center, he’s been trying to hit it to right field. He seldom hits one to left center, and almost never pulls the ball. He is not the same hitter that he was when he came up, and all of the change has been for the worse. I’m for anything that might get him back on the track he was on as a rookie.

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