There are Pirate fans who would rather see another 20 years of losing than acknowledge anything good about Jose Tabata.
1. Tabata was part of the trade that sent Xavier Nady to the Yankees in 2008 and many saw that deal as a pure salary dump. Nady was in the midst of a career year – at age 29 – in which he was hitting .330 with a .919 OPS. However, his career OPS, prior to that season, was .768 and, in the years following the trade, Nady’s highest OPS was .739.
Trading Nady for prospects was 100% the right thing to do. The Pirates were bad and their minor league system was worse. They needed prospects like Tabata far more than they needed the 29-year-old Xavier Nady. But that trade, alone, caused some fans to actively cheer for Tabata’s failure.
2. Tabata didn’t come right out of the gate and hit like Theodore Samuel Williams at the age of 21. Though he did post a .299 batting average and a .746 OPS in his first season – at age 21. (Barry Bonds hit .223/.746 in his first season – at 21)
3. He doesn’t have the sleek, athletic build of a prototypical centerfielder. But – he’s a rightfielder.
4. He has missed many games due to injuries.
But those fans who dislike Tabata – and have even hoped for his failure – cannot escape the hard fact that, through age 24, his hitting has been just as good as that of the revered Roberto Clemente.
The numbers speak for themselves:
Tabata / Clemente
PA: 1,538 2,559
BB%: 7.8% 3.9%
K%: 14.4% 10.0%
K/BB: 1.84 2.55
PA/HR: 90.5 98.4
Average: .274 .284
OBP: .339 .311
SLG: .385 .395
OPS: .723 .706
2013 was Tabata’s age 24 season. He posted a batting line of .282/.342/.429 — .771 OPS. In Clemente’s age 24 season, he hit .296/.322/.396 — .718 OPS.
Things get a lot tougher for Tabata next year. If he is to keep up through age 25, he will have to match the numbers Clemente posted at that age: .314/.357/.458 — .815 OPS, with a HR every 38.8 plate appearances.
That’s a tall task, but Tabata is capable. In the last two months of the 2013 season, he hit .312/.357/.490 — .847 OPS, with 4 HR in 170 plate appearances (one HR every 42.5 PA).
(Of course, this comparison slams into a steel wall when it goes beyond Tabata’s offense. Clemente was historically great in the field. Tabata will have to improve to reach average, as attested by his -3.4 career UZR/150.)
If Jose Tabata’s offense does keep pace with Roberto Clemente’s through age 25, his long-time – and continuous – “critics” might let up. But I’m betting that it will take a bit more than that.
**** Later today, I will post more players who had stats comparable to Tabata through age 24 and the numbers they achieved at 25.