NASCAR Geico 500 preview

NASCAR heads to the legendary Talladega Super Speedway for the Geico 500

Talladega. Getty Images.

This Sunday, The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the largest oval in the world, Talladega Super Speedway. This race is one of the most anticipated races on all of the schedule as it is known for its three and four wide racing and the amount of surprise winners we usually see here. This is the race that I always circle on the calendar to watch; there is simply no predicting on what will happen when the green flag drops at the self-proclaimed "Baddest racetrack on the planet." The obvious variable to watch out for this weekend is the infamous "big one." It seems every time they come to a track like Talladega or Daytona, there has been a multi-car wreck that wipes out most or a lot of the field.

We have seen it every year they have come here so there will be strategy to try and avoid it. One of the most popular ways drivers try and steer clear of this is by riding around towards the back of the field. This has worked very few times. Drivers like Dale Jr and Jeff Gordon have done this and won races because of it. On the other hand, there have been many times to where it hasn't worked. It should be interesting to see how these drivers tackle the high banks.

One of the main headlines of this race is the decision to ditch the Restrictor-plates here that NASCAR has used for nearly 30 years. The new cars will carry a larger tapered spacer and will make their spoiler on the back of the car much larger. These changes are to reduce Horsepower down to 550 which in large part will slow the cars down. While it sounds like a lot, NASCAR officials say they don't expect the style of racing to change too much. A lot of people scoffed at this decision but overall, I am not sure it will make too much a difference come race day. On the bright side, a lot of racing fans will get their wish as the sport has finally abandoned plate racing. It should be a sight to see come first practice on Friday afternoon.

The clear favorite coming into this weekend has to be Aric Almirola. As you know when we come to tracks like this, I have always had him as king of the underdog but this weekend, I truly think he has the best chance to win. Since 2016, he has a 4.25 average finish including a win in last year's fall race so it's clear he knows how to get around tracks like this. It has been good to see one of the good guys in NASCAR get a chance driving for one of the sport's top teams and he has made the most of his opportunity. Look for Aric to be one to watch come sunday.

If you are looking for sort of an underdog story this week, look no further than Matt DiBenedetto. As everyone knows, Bob Leavine and his group of guys have really done a lot to help improve their race team, from forming an alliance with Toyota and Joe Gibbs to hiring a new crew-chief in Mike Wheeler who has been successful with Denny Hamlin. They had a great run going in the Daytona 500 after Matt lead a race high 49 laps until a late race incident knocked them out of contention. This week, I think they get their redemption and get a solid finish if not a victory. I think that Matt can win in this series and what a statement it would be if he was to get his first win here at Talladega.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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The answers in the outfield are becoming clearer than the Astros hoped

*Note: Some Advanced Statistics, courtesy of Baseball Savant, do not include Thursday night's game against the Diamondbacks. Others, courtesy of Fangraphs, do include Thursday night's game*

The Corpus Christi Hooks Twitter account confirmed that Yordan Alvarez is alive and able to take swings, meaning the slugger's return to the Astros lineup is getting closer. Alvarez will get a bulk of the DH at-bats. With Springer being the primary center fielder, and Brantley being the primary left fielder, Dusty Baker will have to choose between Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker for his primary right fielder. Who should he choose?

How do you boil down picking between two players to one question? What is the most important thing to judge a hitter on? The answer

The better player is the player that does the most damage consistently.

Sounds easy, right? But how do you judge that?

  1. Hard Hit %
  2. BB:K
  3. Contact %

Why these three? Well, hitting the ball hard usually leads to damage, so it is good to hit the ball hard. A player that walks and strikes out roughly the same amount is generally pretty consistent, so BB:K ratios closer to 1:1 (this is extremely rare, and a vast majority of MLB hitters are worse than 1:2) are good. Lastly, players that make contact a lot not only can generally do more of the little things like moving runners over, lifting a ball with a runner on third, or executing a hit & run, but also they generally don't swing and miss at their pitch when they get it. Action happens.

Kyle Tucker has a hard hit % of 38.5% so far in 2020. That is 55th in MLB amongst players with at least 25 batted balls (Tucker has 26). For context, Padres star third baseman Manny Machado is ranked 54th with 38.9%, thorn-in-the-Astros-side Kole Calhoun is t-58th at 37.9%, and Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis leads the big leagues at 66.7% (wow).

So, more than 1/3rd of the time Tucker makes contact, he hits it hard. That's pretty good...But how often does he make contact?

Tucker has a contact % of 75.6%, meaning he makes contact with the baseball three out of every four times he swings the bat. That is 88th amongst qualified hitters. He is 1% worse than the slumping Jose Altuve, tied with that guy Kole Calhoun again, and about 1% better than the also-slumping George Springer. Tucker is far from elite at putting the bat on the ball, but he isn't terrible either.

However, despite hitting baseball's hard one-third of the time and making contact three-thirds of the time, Tucker strikes out entirely too much. His 29.3% K-rate is the 35th worst in baseball, and he doesn't offset the strikeouts with a lot of walks either. Tucker walks just 7.3% of the time, which is the 62nd lowest. Ultimately, Tucker has a BB:K ratio of 0.25, which is 49th in MLB right now.

Lastly, while it isn't part of the criteria above, Tucker doesn't have a very diverse batted ball portfolio. Tucker hits the ball to the pull side 65% of the time, and he's hit it on the ground 50% of the time. Eventually, teams will start placing heavy shifts on him, and those balls that have snuck through holes in the early parts of the year won't anymore.

But, is Josh Reddick any better? While none of Tucker's numbers blow you away, they aren't terrible, and he's a young prospect that needs playing time to develop.

Reddick has a 31.3% hard hit % so far in 2020, about seven percentage points below Tucker. 31.3% places Reddick in 96th place, between players like Marcus Semien and Yuli Gurriel. So, Tucker has Reddick beat here, but it isn't by a landslide.

Reddick has a contact % of 80.5%, which is 50th in MLB right now. He's better than Tucker by 5%, and he's in the top quartile in baseball. Reddick also sprays the ball around when he makes contact, hitting the ball to center field 43.8% of the time, right field 37.5% of the time, and left field 18.8% of the time. His ground ball rate is also 31%, almost 20% lower than Tucker's. That would explain why Reddick and Tucker's Barrel % (hard hit baseballs hit in the most desired exit velocity) are within a percentage point of one another despite Tucker having a seven point hard hit advantage.

Lastly, Reddick doesn't strike out very much. He strikes out 14% of the time, which is the 34th best K% in baseball (funny enough, Gurriel and Brantley are 33rd and 32nd). While Reddick doesn't walk a ton either, he walks more than Tucker, clocking in four percentage points better at 11.6%. That results in a BB:K ratio of 0.83, which is tied with Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman for the 30th best in MLB.

Throw in the fact that Reddick plays significantly better defense, and it's really a no-brainer who should play. Astros fans might want the sexier and newer model in Tucker, but it isn't time to trade in old reliable just yet. When Yordan Alvarez returns, Josh Reddick is the right answer in right field.

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