MASTERS MATTERS

Del Olaleye: It is sad that golf is begging for Tiger Woods to make the sport relevant again

The golf world is hoping Tiger is back. Masters.com

Golf has a problem and it isn’t a new one. The Masters is a couple of days away and the golf world is all abuzz about the possibility of their fallen hero winning again. That fallen hero being Tiger Woods. Tiger hasn’t won a damn thing since 2013 and it was a tournament named after tires. The last time Tiger won anything that any non golf nerd cared about was in 2008. We’re talking a decade-long drought in winning anything of significance and yet golf people can barely contain themselves this week. The possibility of Tiger winning the Masters has golf people almost willing to show some emotion that rates higher on the decibel meter than a golf clap. It would be like the NBA world praying the Spurs have one last run in them. The NBA doesn’t operate that way. The relevance of that league doesn’t depend on one team. Or as in golf’s case, one person.

Has golf not grown at all since Tiger fell off the map? Who are their new stars that don’t need Tiger Woods to prop them up? What happened to the Golf Boys? Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan haven’t captured the golf world’s attention? Golf actually did something creative and funny. They featured some of their young stars in something other a commercial promoting a golf ball. The sport itself looks down on individuality in a way that only baseball can match but depending on a 42-year old Tiger Woods to capture the nation for a weekend is a bad look. Golf you’ve had years to figure this out.

There was a time in the NBA when the absence of Michael Jordan from the big stage was felt. A decade later the NBA wasn’t still pining for Jordan to be a factor. Young stars like LeBron, Wade and Melo injected Hall of Fame type talent into the league in the 2000s and the NBA continues to thrive today. Jordan was a once in lifetime player. So was Kobe. So is LeBron. Is the game of basketball itself just likely to produce more all-time greats than golf? Probably. That could be the reason that since Tiger last won a major Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have changed the way their respective positions are played.  Curry has sparked a whole generation of kids who want to play like him. That used to be called the Tiger Effect. Durant and Dirk Nowitzki have changed the way big men approach the game. Name the last golfer not named Tiger Woods to do that for golf…..I won’t hold my breath.

I won’t even blame the people that run golf for this. By “this” I mean the desperate hope that a 42-year old man with back issues can infuse their sport with some juice. It isn’t their fault. They have less to work with. What does golf have to offer to those who weren’t indoctrinated by their parents or so-called friends? Golf’s only redeeming qualities are the fresh air and the soft bed of grass it provides to sleep on when the actual event you came to watch bores you into a coma.

Maybe golf fans will get their long unfulfilled wish this weekend and Tiger will win and people will start to care again. I almost hope it happens so the incessant “Is Tiger back” discussion will come to end.

I will credit golf for this. It is the only sport where you can use the actual gameplay as a replacement for a sleep machine. Sundays at the Masters, a nap unlike any other.


 

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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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