Don't be that guy

Down in front! Stand up and cheer for the Astros, sure, but the whole game?

Excited crowds cheer an Astros win. But Hoffman's rule of thumb is: If you're the only one standing ... sit down. Elsa/Getty Images

For more of Ken Hoffman, check out Culture Map, where this story initially appeared.

I got lucky Friday night – a ticket in the second row, field level, down the left field line at the Astros-Yankees playoff game at Minute Maid Park. That’s as close to the action as you can get without coaching third and waving Jose Altuve around to score. It’s also prime foul ball territory, a fantastic seat all around. I should have brought my baseball glove.

I arrived at Minute Maid Park early at 5 pm, soon as they opened the gates. Found a parking lot charging only five times more than usual. Bought a chicken fingers basket and souvenir cup Diet Coke  and found my seat.

When the game started, my luck turned lousy. Three bozos, beers in both hands, found their seats in the front row, in front of me. Unfortunately, they didn’t use their seats. They chose to stand most of the game. The cheese may stand alone, but not them. Now everybody behind them had to stand,, too, because of the idiots in front of them.

I know this is a thin-ice topic because fans are allowed to stand, the scoreboard encourages fans to get loud and bold. There’s no rule or etiquette policy against standing at a baseball game. It’s just rude and inconsiderate to stand the whole time, though.

I had no problem asking/telling them to sit down. And they had no problem telling me to mind my own business. In fact, how come I wasn’t standing? They were “real fans.” If I didn’t like them standing, I should have stayed home and watched the game on TV on my couch.

The thing is, if anybody in the ballpark didn’t need to stand, it was them. They were in the front row.

Fortified by two-fisted beers and a Puddy-like approach to fandom (“Gotta support the team”), they laughed off pleas of “down in front.”

I can understand standing when it’s a full count with the bases loaded, or Carlos Correa is batting with runners in scoring position, or Keuchel is twisting Aaron Judge into a pretzel with 85-mph sliders. But post-season games, especially in the American League, can last four hours. Baseball is a slow, thoughtful game with intermittent peaks of excitement. There’s no need to stand all the time. 

The Houston Rockets have the right idea. They have a group of fans called the Red Rowdies, who bang drums, stand and scream their heads off the whole game. The Rockets designate a special section for the Rowdies, where they can go crazy all they want, without ruining the fan experience for others. Win-win.

The Houston Dynamo has several “Supporters Groups” of fans who stand and chant and play musical instruments the whole game, too. That’s tradition in soccer. The groups have names like El Batallon, Brickwall Firm and Texian Army. The Dynamo allots a few sections with discount tickets prices in the north end of BBVA Compass Stadium for these groups. Everybody’s happy.

Standing at a baseball game is like singing along with the performer at a concert. No rule against it. Just don’t do it. Nobody wants to hear you sing. That goes for you, too, Jimmy Fallon. 

Saturday afternoon, I bumped into some friends who also attended the Astros game Friday night. Jimmy, John, Jenny and Zoe all said they had a similar experience with people standing in front of them, blocking their view of the action.

Rule of thumb: If you're the only one standing ... sit down.

This has been the most fun Astros season probably ever. The team is thrilling. Playoff games are important. They’re winning! There’s a delicate balance between encouraging fans to “scream for the team” and keeping the game fun and enjoyable for kids and everybody who can’t see over fans who stand. The seating in Minute Maid Park isn’t very steep, certainly not steep enough where fans sitting in Row 10 can see over fans standing in Row 9.

I don’t have a solution, but something needs to be done. Maybe an announcement before the game asking fans to be considerate of people behind them? It’s too late to scramble and separate season ticket standers and sitters. Fans have every right to stand the whole game, even if it ruins the experience for people behind them. Just don't do it.

Stronger, really?

I did have a clear view of the advertising board at Minute Maid Park and saw one sign promoting CenterPoint Energy, with the slogan “We are stronger together.”

I thought CenterPoint's slogan is “Always there.” I called CenterPoint for an explanation. A spokesperson said "Our slogan is still "Always there," but "stronger together is specific to Hurricane Harvey and reflects our commitment to Houston after the hurricane."  

Did CenterPoint think “Stronger together” through? Where have we heard that before?

That’s right, it was Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan for president last year. Whenever she spoke, there was a big banner behind her, “Stronger Together.” She even wrote a book, Stronger Together.

CenterPoint, an electricity and natural gas company based in downtown Houston, serves millions of customers in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota and Oklahoma - 83 percent of those states went for Donald Trump over Clinton. Minnesota was blue, especially after the votes were counted.

Just thinking good business, maybe CenterPoint should consider the slogan, “Making energy great again.”

Do I have to come up with all the good ideas around here?

Random thoughts

Because the Houston Texans beat the hapless (zero hap) Cleveland Browns, all Texas Fuddruckers are offering a free milkshake, hand-spun the old-fashioned way, with purchase of any combo meal Monday — and every Monday after a Texans victory. 

Tickets for Weird Al Yankovic’s “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” stop at Stafford Centre, April 24, 2018, go on sale 10 a.m. Thursday at staffordcentre.com. Tickets for normal people will be $45-$60. True Weird Al fans can purchase VIP tickets for $279, which include: a seat in the first 15 rows, meet and greet with their hero, an autograph, photo (with your camera), custom-framed setlist, souvenir VIP laminate, crowd-free merch shopping and limited-edition Weird Al watch with moving limbs as hour and minute hands.

Why is Anthony Bourdain’s CNN travel show called Parts Unknown when, so far among his 80 episodes, he’s visited Los Angeles, Tokyo, Detroit, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Moscow, Madrid, Shanghai, Miami, Budapest, Houston and London? These “parts” are hardly “unknown.” OK, he’s done New Jersey, which qualifies.

And why is Channel 26 calling its nightly 10 pm news show Isiah Factor: Uncensored? Until I hear host Isiah Carey drop an F-bomb, there's an FCC-imposed gag order. 

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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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