Falcon Points

Houston's national sports identity: Liars, cheats and hypocrites

My friends are degenerates
But I'd never change them
Liars, cheats, and hypocrites
Not the type for saving

- A Day To Remember

If you listen to the Blitz, that is the second hour intro. And if you have been paying attention to Houston sports this week, you know it has been filled with liars, cheats and hypocrites. Many have said it was the worst 24 hours in Houston sports history. From a national attention standpoint, it might be the best, because finally the rest of the nation has noticed the sports scene here.

For years, Houston sports fan has chafed that their teams don't get enough attention from the national media.

They are getting plenty of attention now. Congrats, Houston, this is what your sports teams are known for after one of the most bizarre weeks in Houston sports history.

The liars

University of Houston quarterback D'Eriq King made the odd decision to red shirt after four games, with the presumption he would return in 2020. He constantly repeated that he would be back. On Tuesday night, clearly hoping to avoid the spotlight, he announced during the national championship game his intent to transfer.

He insisted he was staying several times, despite rumors that turned out to be true that he never had any intention of returning. It was a bad look for coach Dana Holgorsen, who banked his 2020 season on King, and a worse look for King, who could have just said "as of now, I am planning on staying." Instead he was intentionally misleading.

And the national media noticed. Even though it happened during the championship game, the story made the front page of ESPN.com, and it mentioned all the times King said he was staying. It was a subtle way of highlighting the lies.

It was a bad look for everyone, and closed out a rough day for Houston sports fan.

The earlier news, of course, was The Big Lie.

The cheats

Well, that's easy. The Astros were hit with a loss of draft picks, a fine, and year-long suspensions for their manager and GM.

Shortly thereafter, owner Jim Crane fired GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. Major league baseball's discoveries were damning.

There is no doubt the Astros cheated. It's hard to believe that everyone in the organization did not know. But the statement exonerated Crane. We can debate if the punishment was enough, but lost in all of it was that it was a "player-driven" scheme. MLB chose not to punish the players, presumably since there is nothing in the collective bargaining agreement to allow it. Regardless, it leaves a lot of questions. Which players? All of them? Just the stars?

Make no mistake, this has been a major national story from the beginning. It dominated talk and headlines on Monday, even in the wake of NFL playoffs and the college championship. The national opinion? The Astros are cheaters and should have been punished more. If you are a fan, you likely don't care. Or you blame the whistleblower. But the nation has a different opinion. If the team struggles in 2020, you can bet the narrative will be that they can't win without cheating. This one isn't going away. But the controversy let someone else off the hook...

The hypocrites

Rest assured, no one was happier to see the Astros announcements than Bill O'Brien, whose epic, historic collapse in Kansas City was swept to the back pages. His inane comments that "we are headed in the right direction" went without being called out. His poor decisions went unnoticed. His inability to look at his organization and recognize change is needed was lost.

We have been saying that in Houston for years. But after his flaws were exposed to a national audience, finally the rest of the world realizes he is in over his head. Several national outlets said he should be fired.

O'Brien said again he won't hire a GM. He said that defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is expected to return next year despite two years of terrible defense. His complete power over the organization makes it clear meaningful change is not coming. We get that O'Brien is not going anywhere, but his stubborn reliance on yes men and cronies and refusal to bring in a legitimate offensive coordinator or replace Crennel means there is no hope for the franchise to take the next step. Sometimes you need new voices. O'Brien's just gets louder and louder and drowns out everyone else's.

Since he became coach, the other three teams in the AFC South have made the AFC Championship Game. The Texans are the only team to fail to do that. Yet they are going in the right direction, according to O'Brien.

What does it all mean? 

The city's teams are finally getting national run. Whether or not it is for good reasons in immaterial. Houston is in the national spotlight. If you are a fan, all you can do is embrace the liars, cheats and hypocrites, and roll with it. And wait for the Rockets to find a way to make news.

The reality is this has been going on for decades. Baseball in particular is a sport that welcomes cheating. Athletes and teams have been lying to you for years. Speaking of hypocrites, if you ripped the Patriots but defend the Astros? The bottom line is fans love to turn a blind eye. And that's just fine. But pretending this isn't a reality is naive.

As fans, you want to believe you are rooting for good people. You wear their jerseys. But the reality is when that much money is on the line, people are going to do whatever they can outside the rules. Maybe it is overly cynical, but the truth is most of them grew up in a culture of cheating and taking short cuts and trying not to get caught. Should we act surprised when they do? Bad people exist in all walks of life. Money attracts more of them.

There is a LOT of money in sports.

And to think it is just Houston is silly. Players like Cody Bellinger saying the Dodgers did things the "right way" might want to hold off. More will come out, and you look even worse when you say stuff like that and your team is the next one.

That leaves Houston fans to just embrace and accept reality. And before you say, "this is harsh and unfair..." is there anything in here that is not true?

Oh, and enjoy the 2017 World Series, because at this rate, that is all you will be able to hang your hat on.

But at least the national media notices you now.

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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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