Del Olaleye: If you are locked into college football recruiting, you are among friends

Alabama won the national title, but winning again may happen because of events in the next week. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Plenty of people think the College Football season ended when Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa hit Devonta Smith for the game winning touchdown in the national title game. Those people would be wrong and maybe you should disassociate yourself from them. Smith, the WR who caught the pass, wasn’t on Alabama’s roster at this time last year. He didn’t even decide he wanted to play for the Crimson Tide until Feb. 1, 2017. Smith is one of many elite high school prospects who wait until National Signing Day to make a decision on where to play college football. In some cases the journey to a decision is a three-year process. Late January to early February is closing time in college football. We’re gonna talk a little ‘crootin.

In Alabama’s comeback win against Georgia two different freshmen caught touchdown passes. The aforementioned Tagovailoa was a freshman as well. Tagovailoa played the entire second half after replacing an ineffective Jalen Hurts. Standing next to the freshman signal-caller for most of the second half was top-ranked running back and true freshman Najee Harris. Harris wasn’t featured in the first half but finished the game as Alabama’s leading rusher. The first of Tagovailoa touchdowns went to another highly touted freshman, Henry Ruggs III. Four freshmen all contributed to Alabama’s comeback. Ruggs, just as in the case of Smith, waited till the very end to decide to play for Alabama. Game-changing talent everywhere. All just out of high school.

Securing that talent is the lifeblood of any program and the pursuit of that top end talent turned perhaps the biggest curmudgeon in college football into someone we don’t recognize. It is the only viable explanation for why Nick Saban of all people is doing the cupid shuffle in some kid’s living room. Thankfully the recruit decided to film the whole thing and now Saban has gone viral. I’m not sure Saban knows what “going viral” is but he just did it. If I was that kid I’d commit to Tennessee. I fear what Saban will do him as retribution once the wining and dining is over. Saban isn’t alone in his apparent out of character actions. Adults of all backgrounds will tweet directly at kids who are considering playing for their favorite school. If a high-profile kid tweets something as simple as “Where the FSU fans at” you can expect over 300 RTs and 3,000 likes in response.

Showing twitter love is really the public face of a fanbase and their obsession. Message boards are where the real underbelly of following recruiting exists. Every major school has more than one board. The basic models can be found at Rivals and 247sports. You’ll find the real diehards at fan-run sites. Posters on those board will spend the entire month of January tracking what obscure city an assistant is traveling to. If they want to be updated about which players have made the decision to take an official visit to their school there is an app for that. Analyzing the words an 18-year old kid texts to a reporter about his college plans is absolutely a thing as well. Understand this, if you haven’t rationalized away a recruit picking your rival over your favorite team then you’re not a true college football fan.

Posters on message boards during the stretch run of recruiting season can be placed into easily recognizable categories.

  1. Optimist: Believes their coaches are recruiting monsters. Any kid who shows their team any type of attention can be snagged. They are usually disappointed on National Signing Day because there is no way any coaching staff can live up to their expectations

  2. Pessimist: They believe every recruit is playing the coaches for fools. They post things like: “Player X is just using the official visit as a free vacation. We’re wasting our time.”  Pessimists position themselves as realists. The Pessimist thinks their job is to keep the the Optimist’s expectations in check.

  3. Above the Fray: This poster will tell the board that NSD (National Signing Day) doesn’t matter a bit if the coaches don’t “coach’em up.” They will also point out that it is a little weird that grown men are so focused on the whims of 18 year old kids.

  4. Insider: This poster somehow, someway has inside information. They may have a “source” on the coaching staff. They might be a family member of a recruit. Sometimes a local high school coach decides to interject. They know a guy who knows a guy.

  5. Troll: A troll takes a run at everyone. Sometimes the troll pretends to be the Insider. This poster plays on the admittedly irrational emotion of other posters who really want a recruit to play for their favorite school. They are the worst.

If you happen to fall into four of the five categories you’re more than ok. You’re amongst friends and we understand. If you fall into the fifth and final category you’re not ok and everyone hates you. Once again, you’re the worst.

We’re a week away from the official end of this college football season( NSD is Wed. Feb. 7th) and less than two months away from the start of the 2018 season. Syracuse starts spring practice March 3rd and thank the college football gods for that.

No one wants to pay attention to baseball in March.

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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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