Spring Training usually means two things. One is that you’ll hear a lot of stories about how a player is reviving their career. This comes in many forms. There’s the “best shape of his life” talk. Sometimes it has to do with vision (Player A got contacts, while Player B skipped that all together and got Lasik surgery). Once the Spring Training games start, the talk stems from the second product of Spring Training: small sample sizes.
We’ve got both of these things in full effect with Jose Tabata. People down here are starting to notice his production in the last week. It seems like every time I see him he’s hitting a double, or he’s showing some hustle. There’s probably a good reason for that. I’ve seen him start two games in the last three weeks (plus one on MLB.tv, but we’re not counting that for now), and in each game he had at least one double. So far this Spring he’s hitting for a .308/.357/.769 line…in 13 at-bats.
Having four hits in 13 at-bats is hardly something to get excited over. In the regular season that’s a good three game series. But the truth is that Tabata has looked good. He looks stronger after working out with a new trainer in Miami over the off-season. He’s hustling all over the field. And his four hits have been three doubles and a home run, which is encouraging since he has a career .372 slugging percentage in the majors, and a .101 ISO. Any sign of power, even in a small sample size, is going to be welcome.
Tabata has drawn criticism from Pirates fans in the last year because of his play, but also because of the perception of how he plays. He’s perceived as lazy, and a head case. Some of that stems from his time in the minor leagues, and some off the field incidents. He fell out of favor with the Yankees after leaving a game in the middle of a horrible season at the Double-A level. After joining the Pirates there was that crazy story about how his wife-at-the-time stole a baby, and was also twice his age. Whether fair or not, those helped mold the perception of Tabata going forward. The biggest contributor was his horrible season in 2012, and his injury issues. The amazing thing about stats is that when they’re good, you forget the biggest of problems with the player. But when they’re bad, the smallest of problems get blown up into huge issues.
Pirates fans place a big focus on Tabata’s mentality. Clint Hurdle talked about Tabata’s Spring performance today, and noted that the success wasn’t a mental thing.
“This is not mental at all,” Hurdle said. “This kid’s moving around. He’s playing well. The body’s live again. He’s looking real good — on the bases, in the outfield, everything he’s doing just looks fresher, cleaner, more powerful.”
Tabata had a double with the bases loaded today, bringing in two runs. The real highlight for him came on the next play. Clint Barmes grounded to short with two outs. Houston shortstop Tyler Greene threw wide, the first baseman caught the ball, then dropped it trying to tag Barmes, and in that time Tabata raced from second to home, scoring easily.
“There was no play whatsoever on him,” Hurdle said. “He got a good, aggressive lead off second base. Soon as the ball is put in play, he is off and running. A clean turn around third and a strong finish home.”
Everything being said about Tabata is true. He’s hitting well, he’s hitting for some power, he’s hustling all over the field, and he looks like a classic Spring Training revived player. The only problem is that all of this comes in a small sample size. That doesn’t mean what Tabata is doing isn’t legit. It just means we need to see this for a longer period of time before we can call Tabata legit. If he’s still playing this way at the end of Spring Training, then it will still be a small sample size alert, but at that point he might need a starting job in the outfield to prove himself over a larger sample.
McPherson Has No Worries About His Curveball
Kyle McPherson took the mound today, giving up four runs on two hits in 2.2 innings. The right-hander pitched well in his first two innings of work, then gave up all four of his runs in the third, with three of those runners scoring off Kyle Waldrop. McPherson faced some control problems today, giving up three walks, which is very uncharacteristic for the right-hander.
McPherson said that all of his pitches were available for today’s game, and that his focus was on angling his pitches and keeping the ball down in the zone.
“This early in Spring it’s just locating the fastball, getting the two-seamer in the zone, getting a lot of swings on that,” McPherson said.
The right-hander did throw a few nasty curveballs in the first two innings, which were both very effective. But he’s not worried about the curveball as much as his other pitches.
“Today it worked very well for me,” McPherson said about the curve. “I was able to throw it for strikes, throw it for balls, get check swings on it. At this point in the game I’m pleased with where it’s at right now, and I’m not going to focus on that. I’ll let the fastball and two-seamer take priority, as well as the changeup, before I worry about that pitch.”
After the game, Clint Hurdle talked about McPherson’s start, and was impressed with how he handled the rough outing.
“He’s a tough kid that we like, and I just liked the composure that he had throughout the event out there today,” Hurdle said.
**Russell Martin was out of the lineup today. Clint Hurdle said he was on a throwing program. Hurdle said he threw well today, and will throw again tomorrow. He will DH tomorrow, and Hurdle expects him to catch this week.
**Brooks Brown threw two innings today, giving up one run on two hits, with no walks and two strikeouts. Hurdle talked about him after the game:
“We signed him for a reason. We liked him in the winter. We were able to bring him in, and he’s showing reasons why our guys that saw him liked him. The fastball is down, it’s got good life. He throws that breaking ball he’s got can be a swing and miss pitch. He showed up very well so far in camp.”