On the Pirates: Steppin' out ... Jose Tabata vs. Travis Snider

Jose Tabata has used the first quarter of the season to remind Clint Hurdle what he can do. As a result, he's fighting Travis Snider for playing time practically every night -- one of those (good) tough decisions every manager wants to have.

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Jose Tabata kept it simple in a mostly empty clubhouse prior to Wednesday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers. "I don't have too much to say," he said, referring to his recent hot streak with the bat. At the notion that Tabata used his performance on the field to do his talking, his face broke into a big smile. "Absolutely."

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A fourth outfielder at the start of the season, Tabata has played his way into manager Clint Hurdle's consideration to the point where he earned starts instead of Travis Snider against right-handed starters. Entering the weekend, he was hitting .417 with a .475 on-base percentage and five extra-base hits in his past 13 games.

He went 4 for 5 and fell a triple shy of the cycle May 11 against the Mets. In a 12-inning victory against the Brewers Tuesday, Tabata went 3 for 5 with two doubles and a walk.

"When I go into the game, I'm looking for one pitch," Tabata said. "Sometimes middle-away. It depends on how he [pitches] me. If he throws me inside, it's OK. I'll take it. I know he'll go outside. That's where I [have] a good swing, to right field."

Snider has played slightly more than Tabata, with 107 plate appearances in 36 games to Tabata's 78 across 29 games.

The soft-tissue leg injury -- Tabata's kryptonite -- attacked early in the season in the form of a tight left hamstring, but Tabata worked through it and avoided going on the disabled list. More importantly, he returned with confidence and assertiveness.

That confidence can backfire -- during last weekend's series against the Mets, he made the first out of the inning at third base trying to go first to third on a single. There's still work ahead. Wednesday night, manager Clint Hurdle removed Tabata in favor of Snider with a slim lead in the eighth inning because he said he feels Snider's defense is superior.

Tabata's thought process encompasses both distant goals and daily realities.

"More important for me is to win the game every day," Tabata said. "I'm looking at playoffs, World Series, something like that.

"[But] it's too early to talk about that."

Batter vs. pitcher: Mining an edge

One of the reasons Tabata started Tuesday instead of Snider was because of Tabata's numbers against Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse. He's now 12 of 23 against him in his career.

"It's a useful tool," Hurdle said of batter-pitcher data. "To turn your back on it, you're being naïve. You're not using all the resources that are there for you."

Batter-pitcher matchups generally occur over too small a sample size to provide any insight. Studies have shown that even matchups containing a decent number of at-bats have little predictive value. The Pirates, Hurdle said, have a system that attempts to correct some of those weaknesses.

"We have player batting averages, swing and miss rates, on-base percentage, OPS -- it's all laid out for that pitcher and 15 comparables," Hurdle said.

That way, the Pirates can attempt to predict what a certain hitter will do against a certain pitcher by reviewing his performance against other pitchers with a similar profile, helping to correct for small sample size.

"Truth be told, at times you can get a player that's 10 for 20 off a guy in real time, and he doesn't rank maybe in your top batting order if you were constructing one sabermetrically over the long haul," Hurdle said. "But also, you can get a pretty good feel for what that guy can do against those types of pitchers."

Whether or not prior results have predictive value, or result from small sample sizes, Hurdle said they make a difference in the head of the hitter.

"There wasn't a pitcher that I didn't hit well against that I didn't know it," Hurdle said. "The pitchers I didn't hit well against, I knew it.

"There was other guys I felt, it didn't matter what they threw. If I got to the plate, I'd put it in play and I'd get a hit."

It can work both ways, Hurdle said.

"The pitcher knows, more often than not," he said. Even if they tell you they don't know, they do. They pay attention. Guys that hit them, they pay attention."

Looking ahead: Chicago Cubs

Not much has gone right for the Chicago Cubs since they left Pittsburgh after opening day, and yet they entered the weekend ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central.

The Cubs, who begin a three-game series at PNC Park Tuesday, lost 13 of 17 games after their opening series here. They rebounded for a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins, then were swept by the Cincinnati Reds at home. Manager Dale Sveum at one point talked of demoting young stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Not all was lost, though. They had a 7-7 record in May prior to the weekend. Left-hander Travis Wood entered the weekend with a 2.03 ERA in eight starts and a .175 opponents' batting average.

Rizzo entered the weekend with nine home runs and 11 doubles. Their offense was averaging four runs per game, only slightly less than the league average and that of the Pirates. Their starters had a 3.55 ERA, which ranked fifth in the majors, but their bullpen's 4.11 ERA put them 22nd in Major League Baseball.


Stay current with the Pirates by joining PG+ for access to PBC Blog at www.post-gazette.com. First Published May 19, 2013 4:00 AM


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