The Disappointments of Youth: Jose Tabata

2011 was supposed to be Jose Tabata’s coming out party, his first full season in the majors, the year that made his production a bigger story than his troubled ex-wife, but it just didn’t happen. Like so many others, his plans of grandeur were derailed by injuries.

He started the season about as well as could be hoped, getting hits in the season’s first 10 games including a pair of home runs, and stealing five bases as part of a .342/.457/.553 start. Over the next 17 games however, his BABIP dropped to .213 and his overall line suffered greatly, as he hit .180/.250/.279, though he did add four more steals. His play in May and June was inconsistent, but he seemed to be getting back into a good groove when he was placed on the DL with some combination of a right hand contusion and a left quad strain. He came back in mid-August, but was back on the shelf with a fractured left hand before September was a week old. All in all, Tabata played just 91 games — fewer than he played in 2010, despite having actually broken camp with the Pirates in 2011 — and his second half was so segmented that it’s hard to make any real concrete judgments about his performance after his return from the DL.

It should be noted that he wasn’t actively bad last year. His wRC+ was 101, making him just a hair above average, but the expectations were for something more that 1 percent above league average. The question going forward is whether he’ll be a player who vacillates between slightly above average to slightly below average or if he has long term value left. At 23, it seems daft to write him off as already peaked; he’s almost certainly going to grow from here.

Health is the biggest factor working against Tabata in 2012, and that’s not a terrible position to be in. None of his 2011 injuries should play a role in his performance, so it’s a matter of staying away from the seemingly random trauma injuries that laid him up last time around, which is true of pretty much the entire league. He did strike out in 16 percent of his PAs, a 3 percent increase from 2010, and that’s a little worrisome. Mitigating that concern somewhat is the fact that he swung at fewer pitches in total and his SwStr rate fell nearly 2 percent; additionally, his walk rate jumped more than 4 percent, so it isn’t as though he lost track of the strike zone altogether. To be frank, if a medium-high strikeout rate is the price for keeping the gains in his walk rate, that’s a trade-off I’m more than willing to make when the higher OBP translates to a higher number of stolen bases.

Working in Tabata’s favor is the old cliché that speed never slumps. Assuming he plays 140+ games, I don’t see a way he doesn’t steal at least 25-30 bases. Speed isn’t his only tool, but it is by far his best. His minor league batting averages typically sat near .300 and I do expect him to be closer to that mark than anything in the .250 range, but I don’t yet have a great sense of exactly what kind of hitter he’s going to be, probably because he’s still refining his approach at the plate. He’ll add a few home runs, though it would be wise to consider those more gravy than part of his overall profile.

Tabata is definitely a worthwhile pick for NL-only players, but I think he’s a good grab in most mixed formats as well. I don’t think he’ll push into the 40 or 50 stolen base range like a Michael Bourne or Brett Gardner, but with an ADP of 227, he’s going some 170 picks after Bourn (57) and about 130 picks after Gardner (95) in mixed 5X5 drafts according to Mock Draft Central. He’s an especially good value as a solid compliment to another strong runner in an outfield, someone like Cameron Maybin (ADP 103).

If Pedro Alvarez or Casey McGehee can put together a solid year in the middle of the Pirates’ order, so much the better for Tabata, as he won’t drive in many runs himself, but should score a fair number of runs. Even if they both disappoint again this year, I don’t think Tabata will, but he’ll need to show that he can stay healthy for a full season before he rockets up draft boards this time next year. For keeper players, if Tabata is available to draft, this may be the last year you can get him on the cheap; if he fits your needs, it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.

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Dan enjoys black tea, imperial IPAs, and any competition that can be loosely judged a sport. Follow him on Twitter.

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Funny – Tabata & Maybin are two of my targets for a deep (+400 player pool) league w/ walks.