For today’s where are they now series we will delve into the wacky and wild world of former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata
In July of 2008, former Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington made a pair of major trades. One of these two trades saw the Pirates send outfielder Xavier Nady and reliever Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees in exchange for four prospects. One of these prospects was outfielder Jose Tabata.
Tabata quickly made his impact in Pittsburgh. He made his MLB debut in 2010, and looked like he would be atop the Pirate lineup for years to come. Batting lead off for the Bucs, Tabata slashed .299/.346/.400 with a 106 wRC+ in 441 plate appearances. He struck out just 12.9% of time, stole 19 bases, led National League left fielders in range factor, and was responsible for 5 defensive runs saved in left field. Overall, he posted a 1.7 fWAR in 102 games, which is a 3+ WAR pace over the course of a full season.
Tabata spent some time on the disabled list in 2011, but still put up strong numbers in 91 games played. Two years into his MLB career Tabata was batting .284/.348/.383 with 35 stolen bases, a +7 DRS in left field, and he appeared to be on his way to locking down the team’s lead off spot for the long haul. The team though this as well.
On August 21, 2011, Tabata and the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a long term contract extension. This extension gave Tabata $14.75 million guaranteed through the 2016 season, and included club options for 2017, 2018, and 2019.
The Dominican native was also known for being a bit eccentric. From his neck lips tattoo, to the outlandish story about his ex-wife, and showing up to the clubhouse dressed as a cowboy, lasso included, you never knew what you were going to get from Tabata.
Tabata struggled in 2012. These struggles included spending time at the Triple-A level. In 2013, despite a DL stint, Tabata bounced back. During the 2013 season Tabata had a career year hitting .282/.342/.429 with a .146 ISO, 119 wRC+, and six home runs.
While Starling Marte was on the injured, and with Travis Snider struggling offensively, Tabata’s season helped the Pirate outfield stay afloat until Marlon Byrd was acquired in 2013. If not for Tabata’s contributions, it is not a given that the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates would have been a postseason club.
Tabata would struggle throughout the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He was outrighted off the roster during the 2014 season and brought back in August. After being designated for assignment in October 2014, no team picked him up and he started the 2015 season in the minor leagues.
In May 2015, Tabata returned to the MLB level for the Pirates. While the team would trade him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Michael Morse on July 31, prior to this trade the moment he is known for would take place.
On June 20, Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer was one out away from a perfect game. Most of you know what happened next.
Tabata leaned into a Scherzer pitch, breaking up the perfect. That alone should forever make Neck Lips a Pittsburgh legend.
Since leaving the Pirates, Tabata has not played in the Majors. During the 2016 season he slashed .244/.340/.333 in 30 games for the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate. He was then released on June 11, 2016, and he signed on with Tigres de Quintana Roo of the Mexican Baseball League. After sitting out of baseball in 2017, Tabata returned to the Mexican Baseball League in 2018 when he played Guerreros de Oaxaca. He also played for the York Revolution of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
Tabata did not play any form of professional baseball in 2019.
While many fans may not remember Tabata fondly, they should. He may have never lived up to the hype he had as a prospect, or the bar he set for himself with his strong 2010 and 2011 seasons, he was still a key cog on the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates. If not for Tabata’s career year in 2013, the Pirates may not have snapped their 20 year postseason drought.