By John Perrotto
Jose Tabata’s goal every time he steps into the batter’s box is to see five pitches in a plate appearance.
“The longer you wait, you better chance you have of the pitcher making a mistake, and you also tire him out physically and mentally,” the Pirates left fielder said.
Averaging five pitchers per plate appearances is a bit of an impossible dream. New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner led the major leagues in that category with an average of 4.62 last season, which was the highest P/PA since major-league pitch-by-pitch data began being charted in 1988.
Tabata, though, is showing good plate discipline this season for a 22-year-old hitter with less than one full season’s worth of experience in the major leagues as he is seeing an average of 3.70 pitches per trip to the plate. That has helped Tabata get off to an outstanding start as the Pirates’ new leadoff hitter as he is hitting .342 with a .457 on-base percentage in the first 10 games while scoring 11 runs, stealing five bases in six attempts and adding two home runs.
A key statistic for Tabata has been his outstanding…
7/4 walk/strikeout ratio. Last season as a rookie he drew 28 walks and struck out 57 times while hitting .299 with a .346 OBP.
Tabata’s lack of walks last season made new manager Clint Hurdle’s decision to move Tabata up to the top of the order from the No. 2 spot at the start of spring training somewhat questionable. However, Hurdle’s rationale was that he felt Tabata showed a willingness to take pitches last season when he averaged 3.62 pitches per plate appearances. Hurdle was also encouraged that two-third–66 percent–of the pitches Tabata took last season were called balls.
Tabata is again at 66 percent in the early part of this season. The big difference is that he has taken 67 percent of the pitches throw to him, as opposed to just 52 percent last year.
“I feel so comfortable now,” Tabata said. “I have a lot more focus than last year. I feel like every time I step to the plate that I’m going to be smart and swing at my pitch instead of the pitcher’s pitch.”
Tabata has been crushing fastballs, especially over the middle and outside corner of the plate. While he still has trouble getting tied up with inside pitches, particularly breaking balls, he has a .553 slugging percentage.
“He’s hitting everything hard right now,” Hurdle said. “He’s on everything.”
Hurdle also believes Tabata, who hit just four homers in 441 plate appearances last season, will only get better.
“He has power,” Hurdle said. “It’s there and it’s going to come. We haven’t seen everything he can do yet.”