Astros get win number 50 on the season

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 2 hits from the 5-1 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After a day off on Monday to celebrate putting an end to their losing streak on Sunday, the Astros were back home in Houston on Tuesday night to face the Pirates. It also marked the return of George Springer to the lineup, getting them one step closer to being a fully-healthy roster. Here is how the series opener went:

Final Score: Astros 5, Pirates 1.

Record: 50-30, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Gerrit Cole (7-5, 3.42 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Trevor Williams (2-2, 4.25 ERA).

1) Return of Springer

The Astros had to be thrilled to have one of their best sluggers back in the lineup in George Springer on Tuesday night. Springer would resume his spot as the leadoff hitter, but it would be Yuli Gurriel who made the first splash on offense. After a leadoff double by Alex Bregman to start the fourth, Gurriel would deliver a two-out two-run home run to give Houston a 2-0 lead.

After the Pirates trimmed the lead to one run in the top of the sixth, Houston answered immediately with a solo home run by Alex Bregman to leadoff the bottom of the inning, putting the lead back at two runs at 3-1. Josh Reddick led off the bottom of the seventh with a double, tagged ahead to third on a fly out, then scored on a sac fly from Robinson Chirinos to extend the lead to 4-0. Springer would end up getting his first hit later in that same inning but would be left stranded.

Alex Bregman notched his third hit of the night by leading the bottom of the eighth off with a single. He'd advance to third base after a couple of wild pitches, then scored on an RBI-double by Yordan Alvarez, extending the lead to 5-1.

2) Cole throws six and allows one run

Although it wasn't a typical strikeout-filled start for Gerrit Cole, he still managed to make it a solid night. Cole, with a little help from another homer-robbing catch from Josh Reddick, didn't allow a run until the end of his game, giving up a two-out RBI-single in the top of the sixth to bring the Pirates within a run at 2-1. He would get the last out of that inning, bringing his final line to 6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 0 HR.

That left it up to the bullpen to complete the final three innings. Josh James came in for the seventh and retired Pittsburgh in order including two strikeouts. Will Harris was next out, and thanks to a couple of great defensive plays was able to record a quick 1-2-3 inning. Collin McHugh, also making his return from the IL today along with George Springer, pitched his first inning of work and was able to get a scoreless inning to secure Houston's 50th win of the year.

Up Next: Houston and Pittsburgh will continue this series with game two tomorrow at 7:10 PM. The Pirates have not yet announced their starter, but the Astros will send Framber Valdez (3-3, 3.61 ERA) to the mound for another start, and will try to rebound from his rough outing in New York this past weekend.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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