ANOTHER ROUGH DAY

10 observations from the Texans loss to the 49ers: Why is Vrabel getting a pass?

The Texans defense has regressed under Mike Vrabel. Getty Images

The Texans lost to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday 26-16. They were pretty much dominated from the start. Here are 10 observations on the game:

  1. Why is Mike Vrabel getting no heat? The Texans defense rarely gets sacks or turnovers. They have given up an NFL-most 14 plays of over 40 yards or more. They are often out of position. That’s on the defensive coordinator. We keep getting told this guy is a good coach. But the results say otherwise. Yes, there have been injuries. Romeo Crennel dealt with that last year and the results were much better.

  2. T.J. Yates looked much better than Tom Savage. Is this another case where Bill O’Brien’s  stubborn insistence that a guy can play cost his team? He has mismanaged his quarterbacks every year. It likely won’t matter next season if DeShaun Watson stays healthy, but…

  3. Kevin Johnson has seriously regressed. From penalties to just poor coverage, he looks nothing like the player he was before getting injured last year.

  4. Jimmy Garappolo is the real deal. The Texans could have drafted him instead of Xavier Su'a Filo. They have a promising quarterback now, but this guy looks legit. And San Fran gave up a lot less to get him.

  5. DeAndre Hopkins is playing out of his mind. It’s a shame his terrific season is being wasted. He had 11 catches for 151 yards and two TDs, giving him 11 for the season, something the great Andre Johnson never did. He did fumble in the fourth quarter, which proved crucial. If there is any flaw in his game, it is ball protection. It rarely hurts them, but it bit them hard on Sunday.

  6. As much as I praised Bill O’Brien’s playcalling last week, this week was predictable again. Running the ball on first down every single time? I get that you need to run the football, but it clearly was not working.

  7. Jadeveon Clowney once again was a disruptive force. His stats look pedestrian, but he was all over the field.

  8. Stephen Anderson, a week after his best game as a pro, was terrible against the 49ers, with two drops and a bad holding call.

  9. Brian Cushing returned and looked good. You just wonder how much juice was flowing through his veins.

  10. I know injuries have been a factor, but the Texans continue to have some of the worst special teams play in football. Ka’imi Fairbarn missed his third extra point of the season and yet another field goal. A guy off the practice squad muffed another punt. Coverage was lacking as well. This has been a problem since the franchise was founded. DeAndrew White does not belong in the NFL. Why is Will Fuller not returning punts?

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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