FanPost

Projecting Jose Tabata

The Pirates are off to a 5-5 start to the season, having taken two series on the road before losing three out of four to a very good Rockies team at home. A lot of players are off to strong starts and the team ERA, to the surprise of many, is near the top in the league. While there is reason to believe that the 2011 Pirates are not the same old Pirates, there have been a lot of posts recently reflecting the "guarded optimism" a lot of fans have. There are a lot of good reasons for the guarded optimism, such as pitcher’s peripherals, high batter strikeout totals and Pedro’s slow start on offense. I thought I would take a different approach and focus on one of the early season success stories … Jose Tabata.

Tabata is off to a scorching start at the plate. He seems to have embraced his role as the leadoff hitter, displaying an even more advanced approach at the plate than he had last season. This approach has led to a ridiculously high .457 OBP and eleven runs scored in only ten games. You can’t ask much more than that out of your leadoff hitter. While there is no way Tabata will continue this torrid play all season, I thought I would analyze just what has led to his success this far and try to project just what we can expect out of Jose in 2011.

 

 

Below is a look at Jose’s dashboard on Fangraphs:

 

G

PA

HR

RBI

SB

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OPS

wOBA

wRC+

2010

102

441

4

35

19

6.30

14.10

.101

.339

.299

.746

.334

106

2011

10

47

2

3

5

14.90

10.50

.211

.344

.342

1.010

.457

187

Fans (37)

145

647

8

73

29

7.40

14.50

.107

.331

.294

.751

.336

105

ZIPS

151

671

8

59

33

7.00

13.90

.109

.322

.289

.741

.329

101

 

Not too shabby. Tabata's wOBA and wRC+ are near the top of the league. He won’t keep this pace up all year, but what can we expect? Since reaching the majors, Tabata has displayed an above average hit tool, plus speed, and above-average plate discipline for a player his age. As a top prospect he was expected to carry these skills to the majors. The question surrounding Jose’s ceiling has been, and continues to be, how much power he will develop. In an effort to display this tool in 2011 Tabata bulked up in the offseason adding a reported 10 to 15 pounds of muscle. So far the results have been promising as he has more than doubled his ISO (isolated power) from last season and his slugging percentage currently sits at .553. Is this evidence that Jose is finally maturing as a power hitter? I will answer the power question later in the post.

Before I begin my analysis of Tabata's performance let’s take a look at what a couple of projection systems had to say before the season started. Looking at the table above, both projection systems are pretty close and predict Jose will basically be the same player he was last season: good average, decent OBP and little power. While these systems do not factor in the added muscle this offseason, they could be a reminder that we should temper our enthusiasm a bit.

However, I’m not buying into that right now and the reason has little to do with his added muscle. In my opinion, Tabata being moved to the leadoff position early in the spring is the biggest reason for his hot start. It forced him to take his plate discipline to a new level. Determined to take more pitches and draw some walks as the leadoff man Jose has sharpened his batting eye and just isn’t swinging at many pitches that aren’t strikes. According to Fangraphs, he is only swinging at 12.5 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone (down from 31.9 percent in 2010) while maintaining an 81 percent contact percentage. It is this selectiveness coupled with an early display of solid contact that has led to the increase in his walk rate. I don’t believe that he can continue walking at a 15 percent clip all season, but I think he is displaying enough power and patience to maintain a walk rate around 10 percent. This is something I would not have predicted coming into the season. He has the speed and contact skills to maintain a higher-than-average BABIP, and adding that to his current approach at the plate I am starting to believe that his on-base skills are for real. I would not be surprised to see him end the season with an OBP in the .370-.380 range unless he drastically alters his approach as the season progresses. 

So now, the big question: Is Jose on the verge of a breakout in the home run department? In short, I don't think so. I think he will beat the Fans and ZIPS projections of 8 homers, but I don’t think we’ll see him break out to the tune of 20 homers or more. The reason for this is that he simply does not hit enough balls in the air.

 

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

IFH%

2010

2.42

16.10

59.40

24.60

4.80%

13.30

2011

3.14

14.70

64.70

20.60

28.60%

13.60

 

Looking at the chart above (once again from Fangraphs), it appears to me that Tabata is getting pretty much the same results as last season once he puts the ball in play. He just isn’t putting enough balls in the air to sustain a high HR total. His HR/FB percentage was really low last season, and on a positive note I think he will fare better there this year - his HR/FB won't be at 28.60 percent but it should be much higher than last season. I think there may be an additional uptick to that ratio as well given his increased strength, though Jose has always had good power. But I just don’t see any way he can reach twenty homers this year without being incredibly lucky, when nearly 65 percent of his balls in play are on the ground and only 20-25 percent are in the air. That said, if I adjust his 2011 HR/FB to 12 percent to account for regression and increased power, I think it’s very possible that Tabata could hit 14 or 15 homers this season.

So what does this all mean? It means, in Tabata, I think the Pirates have a player who will hit for a .300 batting average, maintain a .370 OBP, slug at a .440 clip, steal 30-40 bases and hit 14 homers while playing plus defense (he had a +3.9 UZR/150 in 102 games in 2010). Based on those stats I’m going to go ahead and predict that Tabata will accumulate over 4.0 WAR this season. I know it’s early in the season and the sample size is small, but this was more of an exercise in fun than anything. Besides, I think my prediction would lose its luster if I waited until after the All-Star Break to make it.

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