Championship Boxing in Houston

Charlo set for homecoming title defense Saturday

Photo courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime Sports

Showtime Championship Boxing is live from Houston on Saturday night as WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo puts his belt on the line against challenger Brandon Adams live from NRG Arena. Charlo (28-0, 21 KO,) an Alief native, will look to defend his title for the first time, having been elevated to full-time WBC champion this week. It will be a chance for Charlo to get back on track following a lackluster performance his last time in the ring. Charlo won a unanimous decision victory over Matt Korobov in December, but wasn't particularly impressive in doing so.

The Showtime showcase is a chance for Charlo to build his brand both locally and nationally. Jermall, along with his twin brother Jermell, a former super welterweight titlist, have embraced the "wrestling heel" personna in boxing. But Jermall has also gotten the job done in the ring, scoring knockouts in five of his last seven bouts. Saturday's bout is Charlo's first fight in Houston in over seven years.

Adams (21-2, 13 KO) has won his last four fights, but the matchup against Charlo marks a big step up in competition for the relative unknown fighter hailing for Norwalk, CA. It's Adams' first 12-round fight of his career. Adams has previously fought for two secondary titles and has lost each time. Charlo has shown more power as his career has progressed and I have to imagine he sees Saturday night as an excellent chance to put on a show for his hometown fans and viewers on Showtime. I expect to see Charlo attempt to overwhelm Adams early in the fight and make him feel overmatched in his biggest test to date.

While Charlo is one of the best fighters in the 160 pound division, the politics of boxing have made it difficult for him to land a big-money fight. Of the four best middleweight fighters in the world the other three, Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Demetrius Andrade, all fight on DAZN. If Charlo wants to cross the street and make a big fight with a DAZN fighter, he'll need to continue to build his image to the point where such a fight makes financial sense for all involved. A highlight reel-knockout on Saturday night would be a nice first step.

TIM'S PREDICTION

Charlo by knockout, round four.

UNDERCARD REPORT

The televised undercard features a pair of world title eliminators. In the co-feature junior middleweight Erickson Lubin (20-1, 15 KO) takes on Zakaria Attou (29-6-2, 7 KO) for a chance to be the mandatory challenger for WBC champion Tony Harrison. Lubin has lost only once in his career; a first round knockout defeat to Jermall Charlo's twin brother Jermell. Attou is an unknown, having never previously fought in the United States.

In the opening bout of the televised card Eduardo Ramirez (22-1-3, 9 KO) faces Claudio Marrero 23-3, 17KO) for a shot at WBA featherweight champion Xu Can.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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