Saturday Boxing Showcase

At age 40 Pacquiao still has the goods to beat Thurman

Photo illustration courtesy of Premier Boxing Champions.

Manny Pacquiao is a shell of his former fighting self. Now 40 years old, gone is phenom who won world titles in a record eight weight classes. Gone is the thunderous left hand that led him to knockout victories over the likes of Ricky Hatton, Erik Morales and Miguel Cotto. Gone is the transcendent star, who became a household name not just in the boxing world, but in the general public. But instead of focusing on what's gone, let's talk about what's still there. At age 40 Pacquiao is still an overwhelmingly skilled pressure fighter. He's quick, intelligent and relentless. Despite all he's lost, what Pacquaio (61-7-2, 39 KO) has left is still more than enough to beat Keith Thurman Saturday night.

Thurman (29-0, 22 KO,) who will take the ring opposite Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, has never lost a fight in his professional career. He's a tremendous technician who has beaten a who's who of PBC welterweights throughout his 12-year run in the division. But despite being a decade younger, we can't talk about what Pacquiao has lost without having the same conversation about Thurman. Following an uninspiring victory over Danny Garcia in 2017, Thurman had elbow surgery. The injury kept him out of the ring for nearly two years, just returning this January to beat journeyman Josesito Lopez in another lackluster performance.

Thurman has also shown an erosion of power. Originally nicknamed "One Time" for his ability to score one-punch knockouts, Thurman hasn't recorded a knockout since a 2013 victory over Jesus Soto Karass. Sarcastic boxing fans and opponents have joked that now "One Time" is a reference to how many times a year Thurman usually fights.

Thurman's resume also pales in comparison to Pacquiao. Pacquiao has taken down multiple hall of famers en route to what will ultimately be a first ballot hall of fame career. With victories of the likes of Cotto, Marquez, Bradley, Mosley, Hatton and Marquez it's not an exaggeration to say you can count on both hands the number of fighters Pacquiao has beaten that are better than Thurman. On the other hand, Thurman has never faced the best at 147 pounds. He never got a crack at Floyd Mayweather, avoided Errol Spence, and boxing politics have prevented a Terence Crawford fight. Thurman's victories over Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter both qualify as "nice" but stop miles short of career defining.

Manny Pacquaio has had quite a career in the boxing ring, and may only have a few fights left. He's not the fighter he used to be, but what's left is a top-5 welterweight with superior hand speed, timing and movement. Is that enough to beat Keith Thurman on Saturday night? We will know soon.

TIM'S PREDICTION

Pacquiao by unanimous decision.

UNDERCARD REPORT

The televised card starts with a showcase fight for Sergey Lipinets (15-1, 11 KO) against John Molina Jr. (30-8, 24 KO.) Molina's skills have long eroded and this should be an excellent chance for Lipinets to score a knockout in an exciting slugfest.

Fight two pits Yordenis Ugas against former prospect Omar Figueroa. Ugas (23-4, 11 KO) is fresh of a controversial loss to Shawn Porter in a fight many observers thought should have gone his way. Figueora (28-0-1, 19 KO) has battled injuries, distractions and problems making weight, but is still tremendous power puncher.

The co-feature pits super-middleweight titleist Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KO) in what should be a showcase fight over Mike Lee (21-0, 11 KO,) who is taking a big step up in competition.

PAY PER VIEW DETAILS

The fight will be distributed via Fox Pay-Per-View for a price of $74.99. Cord cutters can stream the action on FoxSports.com for the same price.

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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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