SportsMap weekend boxing rewind

Bivol survives scare to beat Smith

Dmitry Bivol lands a jab to the body of Joe Smith. (Photo courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.)

Light heavyweight titleist Dmitry Bivol won a wide decision in his mandatory defense against Joe Smith Jr. on Saturday night in Verona, NY. Bivol (16-0, 11 KO) defended his World Boxing Association title by scores of 119-109 (x2) and 118-110. SportsMap.com also scored the fight 118-110 in favor of Bivol.

Despite the wide scores, Bivol had to survive a scare to get the win. At the end of the tenth round Bivol ate a huge right hand from Smith right as the bell rang. The punch staggered Bivol, who retreated to his corner holding onto the ropes. Bivol returned for the 11th round still not looking like himself, facing more hard shots from Smith (24-3, 20 KO) in the penultimate round than he seemingly did for the rest of the fight combined. For much of the 11th it looked like one well-placed shot from Smith could end the fight in a stunning come from behind knockout victory for the challenger from Long Island. But Bivol retained his form in the 12th round, nearly stopping Smith on his feet. Referee Gary Rosato looked in position to wave off the fight because of the accumulation of punches Bivol was landing, but Smith was saved by the final bell.

Smith, who is best known for his monster knockout of Bernard Hopkins that ended his career in 2016, looked to be at a boxing skill disadvantage from the opening bell. Bivol controlled the tempo easily winning the first nine rounds of the fight, staying out of trouble before the aforementioned right hand that changed the fight late. It was the second loss in three fights for Smith, who has struggled with jaw injuries recently. Smith lost a unanimous decision to Sullivan Barrera in 2017.

Bivol, who is aligned with Matchroom Promotions and the DAZN streaming service, now faces difficulty finding a big fight at light heavyweight because the other titlists at that weight are aligned with other networks. Bivol did mention that he will considered moving down to super middleweight, where a fight with WBA super champion and DAZN stablemate Callum Smith would be an easier fight to make.

SATURDAY IN CARSON: PORTER GETS GIFT AGAINST UGAS

Welterweight titlist Shawn Porter (30-2-1, 17 KO) retained his WBC belt on Saturday in a wildly unpopular split decision victory over challenger Yordenis Ugas. Porter won by scores of 115-113 and 116-112. The third judge scored the fight 117-111 in favor of Ugas. SportsMap.com scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Ugas. The crowd booed wildly when the decision was announced.

Porter, who is known for his physical, all-action style, was neutralized through much of the fight by Ugas (23-4, 11 KO,) who was able to constantly disrupt Porter's normal pace. The fight featured many difficult to score rounds throughout.

The fight could have turned in the 12th round when Ugas appeared to floor Porter with a looping right hand. Veteran referee Jack Reiss didn't score the blow as a knockdown, instead ruling that Porter slipped. Replays show the punch should have been ruled a knockdown. As the final bell sounded Ugas raised his hands in the air and celebrated; the face of a man who felt he won. Porter looked stunned, and as if he had resigned to the fact that he had been defeated.

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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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