OPINIONATED

Del Olaleye: If you do not like what athletes have to say, ignore them

Lebron James stirred things up. NBA.com

Do we want our sports favorites to have an opinion? You’re never supposed to ask a question you already have an answer for but I just did it. We don’t want their opinions. At least not ones that don’t agree with our own. I’m not sure where that comes from. We go through life talking to people who don’t agree with everything we say. We don’t immediately respond with a shut up and do your job to the offending party. Athletes and coaches appear to be held to a different standard. When we want their opinions we’ll give it to them. Just ball. Don’t talk.

Sports are most often pointed to as an escape from the real world. There are times when sports truly is an escape. Houston fans rallied around the Astros in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. That World Series run could truly have been something to take people’s minds away from their lives being completely changed by a natural disaster. That “escape from the real world” phrase is often used in less dire circumstances as well.

For transparency’s sake, I rarely listen to athletes speak. I care about the games being played and very little else. That extends to sports talk shows on the major networks like FS1 and ESPN. Miss me with all the opinions.  Once the final score is decided it is time for Netflix. Not everyone is like me and some people like to hear what players actually think. That is until they have an opinion that strikes the wrong chord.

Players have been the targets of fan ire for a quite a bit. Recently Lebron James and Kevin Durant’s comments on a video podcast went viral because of a Fox News host. That host is playing to her audience. I can barely take what she said seriously. When you’re on Fox News and you tell “entitled athletes” who are critical of a Republican president to shut up you’re just doing your job. Laura Ingraham probably could have been fired for negligence if she hadn’t said what she said. Players are not the only people speaking out. Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich are the two most high profile coaches in the NBA right now and also the most outspoken. Popovich and Kerr have both taken their shots at the president and faced some backlash because they’re both supposed to be just basketball coaches.

I can’t think of a logical reason why people in sports are expected to stay silent on social issues. Is it because they play a game for living? Are they any different than your coworker you’re more than happy to get into a lengthy discussion with? Some of us, myself included, avoid discussing certain topics because we know a good number of people just will not be moved off their platform. They’re like a roided up American Gladiator in the Joust. You may get a shot or two in but you’re fighting a losing battle.

We’re willing to listen to opinions from radio hosts and TV personalities from the start of our day to the 11 pm Sportscenter but the coaches and players being discussed would be better served acting like extremely life-like robots. Some players take that approach. It might be more healthy to be seen and not heard. Those twitter streets can get ugly. If we were given the option to control their movements and words with controllers we just might. Maybe players would be better off simply serving as a representative of the hometown team and nothing more. Wear the jersey, play hard and talk about nothing but the game. All they need to do is make sure they’re available for that three hour block of time that we’re in front of the TV or at the stadium/arena and then go recharge at their docking station until the next time they’re needed.

Before anything else athletes are just people and people tend to speak their mind from time to time. In this case these people happen to have an elevated platform and every now and then they might choose to voice their opinion. An opinion you can take in and assess or completely ignore.

If you actually ever get offended by what an athlete says it really is your fault. You could always be watching Everything Sucks! on Netflix instead.

 

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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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