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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.


Curtis Granderson Dominating the Fastball

New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson is crushing fastballs this season.  His .785 slugging percentage against them ranks first in the league, as does his 1.231 OPS.  Also, 11.5% of his at bats decided on a fastball have resulted in a home run.

Considering how he's done versus fastballs in the past two years, his current season has been quite an improvement.

Curtis Granderson vs. Fastballs
* - Leads the league

What has helped Granderson's overall numbers against fastballs has been his ability to lay off pitches out of the zone. In 2010, he chased 26.6% of fastballs out of the zone, and 23.5% in 2009. This season, he's chasing only 18.5%.

(Click image to enlarge)

You can see from the above graphic that Granderson is swinging at more fastballs that land in the zone, while chasing outside fastballs a bit less. His increased plate discipline has resulted in a lot more production. And while his 34 total HRs is second behind Jose Bautista's 35, his 23 HRs off fastballs leads all major leaguers.


Mauer's Off-Speed Judgment Off

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins lost his ability to hit sliders and curve balls decently in 2011.  From 2008-2010 Joe hit .275/.327/.349 on those pitches combined.  They obviously give him trouble, but if that's the worst a batter is going to hit on a pitch or pitches, he's probably doing okay. In 2011, Mauer hits .178/.186/.191 on those two pitches.  What happened?

Even though Joe didn't hit all that well on those pitches, he showed decent strike zone judgment on them.  From 2008-2010, he only took 28.5% of them for strikes, and chased 20.9% out of the strike zone.  You can see that in his swing rate on those pitches:

Joe Mauer, swing rate on sliders and curve balls, 2008-2010.In 2011, 42.5% of those pitches go for called strikes, and he's chasing 30.3% out of the zone.  Again, you can see the difference in his swing rate heat map.

Joe Mauer, swing rate on sliders and curve balls, 2011.He's clearly taking pitches at which he should be swinging, and trying to hit too many pitches off the corners and edges.  He putting a higher proportion of these pitches in play, 60.2% versus 50.2% in the three previous seasons, but because he's making contact on pitches outside the strike zone, those balls in play are turning into outs, as he has a meager .218  BABIP.

Joe Mauer's batting eye made him an MVP candidate.  As far as these two pitches are concerned, he lost that eye this season, and it's responsible for a large portion of his fall off.