USA TODAY Sports
Ultimately, the debate among Pirates fans about whether Travis Snider or Jose Tabata should start in right field probably doesn't matter much. They're both out of options, and based on everything we've heard so far out of camp, they both appear likely to make the team. (A couple months ago, I thought Jerry Sands might make it ahead of Tabata, but that now appears unlikely -- Sands has an option, and reports from camp on Tabata so far have been uniformly positive, so it seems likely Sands will head to Indianapolis.) Also, Snider is left-handed and Tabata right-handed, so it makes sense to simply start Snider against most righties and Tabata against lefties. That's ultimately what I think will happen, almost regardless of their spring training performances.
Neither Snider nor Tabata played well for the Pirates last season, but my visceral reaction to Tabata's poor play was much stronger, so I headed into this post expecting to write that Snider clearly should receive most of the playing time, and that anyone overreacting to a week's worth of spring training games should check themselves.
After looking into it more carefully, though, I'm not sure it's that simple. Tabata has been a profoundly annoying player, but he isn't obviously a worse option than Snider. Tabata is probably slightly better at getting on base. Snider is the better defensive player, but maybe not if Tabata keeps his head in the game this year, and Snider has more power. Ultimately, ZiPS sees Tabata producing 1.1 wins above replacement and Snider 0.8 wins above replacement this year, although ZiPS allocates 83 more plate appearances to Tabata, so it's pretty even.
The best argument for Snider, I think, is that Tabata has had his chance to be a full-time player, and he's blown it. Snider hasn't really had a similar opportunity -- the Jays treated him like a hyper eight-year-old treats a math textbook, and last year's stretch run didn't really tell us much either, because the Pirates couldn't seem to decide whether he was injured or not. A long stretch of healthy at-bats with reasonably favorable pitching matchups should tell us something that might prevent us from having this debate again a year from now.
Of course, you could have said the same thing about Tabata this time last year. The real shame here is that he didn't seize the opportunity, and then Snider didn't really seize his either.