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« Fister Chasing a Dream | Main | Curtis Granderson Dominating the Fastball »

Jose Tabata: Better Eye, Bigger Bank Account

Outfielder Jose Tabata just turned 23 earlier this month, but he could potentially be in a Pirates uniform until his early thirties after agreeing to a long-term contract extension. The Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel has the details:

Tabata, 23, has agreed to a six-year contract worth at least $14.75 million, the sources said. The deal has three team options that would make it worth $22.5 million.

The contract reworks Tabata's salary for this season, giving him a $72,000 raise to $500,000 and a $1 million signing bonus. He would make $750,000 in 2012, $1 million in 2013, $3 million in 2014, $4 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2016.

Tabata, acquired by Pittsburgh along with Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf from the Yankees in July of 2008 in exchange for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, earned the extension in part by showing marked improvement in his strike-zone judgment this season.

As a rookie, Tabata chased about 29 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (close to the league average) and walked in slightly more than six percent of his plate appearances. This year, he's venturing out of the zone a little more than 20 percent of the time, drawing ball four in 11 percent of his plate appearances.

In particular, Tabata's eye has gotten much better when pitchers throw him something "soft" -- that is, a curveball, slider or a changeup. First, here's the league average out-of-zone swing rate against breaking balls and changeups:

Overall, hitters chase a little over 32 percent of curves, sliders and changeups thrown off the plate.

Now, look at Tabata's outside swing rate against soft stuff in 2010, compared to this season:

Tabata's outside swing rate by pitch location vs. breaking balls and changeups, 2010

Tabata's outside swing rate by pitch location vs. breaking balls and changeups, 2011Tabata's chase rate versus soft stuff has dropped from over 38 percent in 2010 to just 23 percent this year.

It remains to be seen whether the 5-foot-11, 220 pound Tabata adds power to his more patient approach, but his contract extension looks like a winner for the Pirates. At worst, the club has a plus base runner with a good eye and solid defensive skills under contract for what figure to be the peak seasons of his career. And if Tabata does start to turn on some pitches, this deal could be an absolute steal.

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