Every-thing Sports

Can this Rockets team repeat what the '94-'95 team did?

Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

We have lived watching an era of sports in which we've been blessed to have seen a ton of all-time greats. There have been some of the greatest individual, team, and league seasons that can be put up against any in history and argued to have been the greatest.

With that said, we have also seen history repeat itself. Kobe Bryant was the closest thing we've seen to Michael Jordan. Tom Brady has eclipsed anything we thought about Joe Montana and John Elway. Steroid Era aside, we have seen home run records fall, .400 has been remotely threatened a handful of times, and some of the most dominate pitching in a hitter-friendly era.

But have we ever seen a season in any sport, from any franchise come close to what this year's Rockets team may be able to mimic when it comes to the '94-'95 team did? Before you get started saying "Jermaine has lost his damn mind again," hear me out.

I know full well the '94-'95 team won back to back titles and this team has yet to win one. I know that team hold a special place in the city of Houston's collective hearts, and this one tends to hold a special place as a pain in the city's collective ass. But there are some similarities worth paying attention to.

Let's start with the obvious. Each of these teams featured a dominant alpha dog that was/is the centerpiece of everything. Hakeem Olajuwon and James Harden are the two greatest players in this team's history. Both will be in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (Olajuwon already is). Both won league MVP the previous season. Olajuwon infamously lost out on back to back MVP awards to rival David Robinson of the Spurs and made him pay dearly in the playoffs. With the stretch Harden is currently on, he may win back to back MVP awards, but if another player's team finishes higher in the league standings, he may be given the award over Harden. In this regard, I'm specifically looking at Russell Westbrook as it refers to this article for historical parallels being that they have the possibility of meeting in the playoffs. The Thunder currently sit in third place in the Western Conference while the Rockets are fourth.

That '94-'95 team also made the key trade for Clyde Drexler two days after the All-Star game to help boost their run to a title. This year's Rockets team has been off kilter and desperately need to make a trade to help them down the stretch run. While much of this team's struggles are due to injury, the struggles are similar. This year's team is 25-18 through 43 games played, and the '94-'95 team was 28-15 at the same point in the season, finished 47-35 and won the NBA title from the sixth seed (lowest ever to win it all).

Am I saying that this year's Rockets will repeat what one of the most beloved teams in franchise history has done? It may not be likely, but it is possible. This year's Rockets are 9-8 against all current Western Conference playoff teams, including an impressive 6-3 against the four teams ahead or tied with them in the current standings. That 3-5 record versus the teams below them is bothersome, but not as off-putting as it could be. If this team doesn't get healthy, make a deal for reinforcements, and James Harden doesn't maintain his level of play throughout the playoffs, none of this will come true. Admit it; these two seasons do look eerily similar. How sweet would it be if they ended similarly?

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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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