OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: Madness, Kaepernick and more sports

Colin Kaepernick surprised Bob McNair. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Without question this is the most mind-blowing tournament I have ever seen.  Brackets have been busted, hearts have been broken, buzzer beaters, No. 1 seeds eliminated.

The best story of March Madness is the Loyola Ramblers. And not just because of coach Porter Mosier’s kids who upset both Miami and Tennessee.  It’s the remarkable story of 98-year-young team chaplain and scout, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.

She is getting more press coverage than the players, posing for selfies and signing autographs.  Sister Jean, the team chaplain since 1994, has had a TV camera trained on her during games and has been mic’d up for her pregame prayers.

The national celeb plans to be with the 11th seeded Ramblers in Atlanta on Thursday night at the Sweet 16 in Atlanta, where they will face No. 7 seed Nevada in a South Region semi.

Coogs just miss

The UH Coogs finish the season 27-8 under coach Kelvin Sampson as a

buzzer beater keeps them from advancing to the Sweet Sixteen and a game against the Aggies. But I still cannot figure out why Sampson, a defensive minded coach did not put two players on the inbound pass.

Strange indeed.

But it’s a boost for Kelvin Sampson’s program, as they move into their new state of the art facility.

A&M moves on

The Aggies made it to the Sweet Sixteen doing it in a manner that Kevin Sumlin’s football teams could not: With defense.

Once again coach Billy Kennedy’s kids clean the glass, pulling down 84 percent of their shots against former defending champ North Carolina and Providence. The keys are 6-10, 241-pound sophomore Robert Williams and 6-10, 266 pound junior  center Tyler Davis.

So much for putting a lot of stock in your conference, where the Aggies finished seventh in the SEC

Rockets roll on

Like a well-oiled machine, Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets continue to roll, even though they make a scary habit of letting teams get back into the games in the fourth quarter.  

The more you watch P.J. Tucker, the more you appreciate the unselfish play of the former Texas star.

Astros, Altuve stand tall

Astros owner Jim Crane and GM Jeff Luhnow rewarded superstar second baseman Jose Altuve by signing the MVP through the 2024 season. It’s a five year, $151 MILLION-dollar deal.

Crane is one again putting his money where his mouth is by paying guys who grew up in their farm system.  When he bought the club, it was bare bones payroll and 100 loss seasons. Crane lived up to his promise of taking care of his stars.

They did the deal quietly with the toughest agent in baseball, Scott Boras, representing the Venezuelan package of dynamite.

Net Gaines

Huge props to new Texans GM Brian Gaine.  Unlike his predecessor Rick Smith McNair, who treated the media as maggots, Brian had a press conference to discuss the first few days of free agency.

How refreshing.

Communicating with you the fans through the media rather than Slick Rick hiding in his imperial office. On the day they lost out on left tackle Nate Solder, Gaine added three offensive linemen.

And that was before the shocking signing of Tyrann Mathieu on a one-year deal. The hard-hitting safety declined a pay cut from Arizona. With the addition of the Honey Badger the Texans have upgraded the back end of the defense with a great player on a one year deal.  He gives defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel multiple options in the back end.

But the key to secondary is the play of former first round pick Kevin Johnson. The kid is blessed with talent but can’t stay healthy.

Still at odds

Colin Kaepernick was seen last Thursday working out at a local soccer field, then flew to New York to participate in the collusion case.  Bob McNair, was part of the NFL deposition. According to sources, the Texans owner was shocked at Kaepernick’s presence.

Not from an optics perception but who I still think McNair should let Gaines sign Kap.  His mobility is perfect to back up Deshaun Watson

Still Luv ya blue

Big thanks to Titans owner Amy Strunk for a first-class day of golf and dinner for ex-Oilers.  Warren Moon flew in from Seattle, Kevin Gilbride from the East coast and Dr. Doom, Robert Brazille, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.

I had dinner with Rams legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.  He is like a little kid in the candy store with the acquisitions of Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters.  He’s never had a talent like the Chiefs former No. 1 pick.

Wade loves Watson and what Bill O’Brien did with him. “From the tape I saw the kid is destined for greatness. He has things that you can’t teach or coach.’’

Chirp!

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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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