COACHING DECISIONS

Bill O'Brien: The Kool Aid guide to his coaching

Bill O' Brien might have something up his sleeve. Houstontexans.com

As the leaves change colors and degrees begin to drop, the Texans sit atop the AFC South in a three way tie for first place. While the team is by no means imploding, a rocky 0-3 start coupled with close games being lost at least in part due to questionable play calling has fifth-year head coach Bill O' Brien feeling the heat from fans.

Although most Houstonians are ready for a change at the helm, here are three rationalizations if you want to retain some B.o.B. hope:

Kool-Aid Glass  #1- Teams often play down to terrible teams, and no one knows that better then Billy-O.

We see this every year, a team that’s steamrolling its way through its schedule finds itself in a close game against a rag-tag bunch of inferior players stealing pay-checks from their owner.  Sometimes that group of supposed professionals even rips a win from the better team (Remember the Bills’ out-of-nowhere win against the Vikings earlier this year?). Bill O’Brien could be capitalizing on this inexplicable phenomenon, calling a flurry of seemingly ill-conceived plays until the opposing sideline lets their guard down and starts calling terrible plays of their own.

Just look at the Colts game in Week 4, a risky overtime play call leads to the Colts turning the ball over on 4th down on their own 43. Do you think a Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator makes that same call against a team coached by Mike Tomlin or Sean Payton? Not a chance. But when you’re playing against a badly coached turd burger, you start thinking to yourself “So what if we turn the ball over on downs, there’s no way these idiots have enough time to capitalize on it.” And that’s where B.o.B. thrives, making teams think themselves out of certain victory.

Kool Aid Glass #2 Bill O’Brien’s Texans are playing some of the ugliest football ever in order to dissuade opposing coaches from watching his game tape.

This theory is so plausible it really shouldn’t even be considered a rationalization. You ever watch a team try to get the ball in the end zone from inside the 5 to no avail? It’s gruesome. Now imagine watching that over the course of three or four downs, and then repeat that whole thing several more times. In that moment, if someone offered you a Season 3 DVD of The Jersey Shore, you would probably hit “play” just to cleanse your visual palette. It’s a simple concept, teams can’t prepare well for you if they don't watch tape, and they cant watch tape if it makes them want to throw up every 10 minutes.

Kool Aid Glass #3 Bill O’Brien makes a percentage of Texans merchandise sales, and is setting his young core up for maximum exposure.

This is a full-on Alex Jones-style conspiracy theory, but if you’ve read this far it can’t be that much more of a leap in logic. Bill O’ Brien could be making some cheddar off jersey sales, and perhaps is positioning the team to see its highest volume of television views in order to maximize his players visibility.

Now, the best way to do this would be to make a deep run in the playoffs and capture postseason media glory for your squad. But what is one to do if a playoff run isn’t in the cards, and even a playoff berth is a longshot? Well, you do the next best thing. You try to play overtime games as often as possible.

Already the Texans have played two OT games. However, take a closer look at the four games that ended in regulation. There could have been even more OT games! Most notably the Bills game, which was forecast as an exciting battle of field goal kickers, narrowly missed going to overtime because of a last minute pick-six. And that’s despite B.o.B. doing everything possible to preserve a tie. In fact every game this season has been won or lost by one touchdown or less! Either Billy-o is interested in becoming a lock to cover the spread, or he knows if you play six OT games, that’s one full game of bonus TV time.

 

 

 

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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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