THE LEFT TURN

A look ahead at the 2021 NASCAR schedule

Here's what's ahead for NASCAR. Photo via: WikiCommons.

On Wednesday, NASCAR rolled out its 2021 schedule and BOY is it big. There will be several wholesale changes going into next year. It is clear that 2021 will be a new era in NASCAR. In this article I will go over all the major changes and what I like about the new tracks and what I don't like.

  • New tracks: So first and foremost there will be a lot of new tracks on the schedule for the first time in a long time. Those tracks are Nashville Superspeedway, Road America in Wisconsin and Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Overall, I couldn't be more pleased that NASCAR is going to a lot of new venues next season. This has been what NASCAR fans have been asking for. I look forward to seeing how these cars run on these new tracks, especially the track in Austin. This had been rumored for many years and after going to the track a couple of times, I look forward to seeing the cup cars here in 2021. I am also looking forward to seeing Road America as well considering how great the racing has been in the Xfinity Series. All of these new tracks will certainly be a learning experience for each driver
  • New layouts: Aside from new tracks, we will also see a lot of new layouts on some of the old tracks as well. The most notable of changes has to be Bristol as it was announced that next season, the track will be revamped into a dirt track for NASCAR's first dirt race since 1970! This had been a rumor that was picking up steam and was confirmed on Wednesday. Personally, I have no idea how this will work. It is possible for NASCAR to run on dirt as they have been running the trucks at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway since 2013. Me personally, I am not sure how well this is going to work, will NASCAR run qualifying races? It will be interesting to see what type of format they run with this. Another factor I am looking forward to is the possibility that we may see some Dirt Track regulars run this race. I am cautiously optimistic about this race but it should be fun regardless. Another new layout we will see next season is at the Brickyard as instead of running like the oval like we have seen since 1994, they will run the road course configuration instead. This is something I have been calling for since 2018 when the Charlotte Roval started. I am excited to see how this works out considering the Xfinity cars ran here on the fourth of July this year.
  • The new dates: One thing that will also drastically change next season is the dates the races will be on. Next season, we will see tracks like Texas and Homestead run at a much different time in the season than we are accustomed to. The All-Star Race will also be moved to a new date and a new track as it will be run on June 13th-14th at Texas Motor Speedway. We will also see tracks Atlanta and Darlington get another race as NASCAR tries to return to its roots. I personally am extremely excited to see Darlington get another race back considering it's one of the hardest tracks to run on.
  • The tracks we lost in 2021: With new tracks unfortunately comes the subtraction for some of the old ones. Next season there will be two tracks that NASCAR doesn't return to, those being Chicagoland and Kentucky. It is fairly ironic that these two would get the axe considering they are relatively newer tracks. I feel awful for the people in both of these markets that won't be able to watch a race at their home track and I hope that in some way these tracks can stick around, especially Chicagoland considering the awesome racing we have seen there over the past couple of years.

Next season will be uncharted water for this sport but a change of pace is good. I look forward to seeing what they do going forward in the next few years and seeing if there are any more new tracks that will be added. Here is to a new future in both the real world and in the NASCAR world.

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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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