SWING STUDY

How one minor adjustment was the key to unlocking Kyle Tucker

Every little bit helps. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

In early August, 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez was nearing a return to the Astros lineup, and Astros manager Dusty Baker faced a decision.

Josh Reddick or Kyle Tucker.

At that time, the answer wasn't clear. Statistically, Reddick was outperforming Tucker, Reddick had a more diverse batted ball profile that made him less predictable than Tucker, and Reddick provided more value defensively than Tucker. Aside from Tucker's lofty prospect billing, there really wasn't an objective reason for Tucker to play over Reddick.

Just shy of two months down the line, if faced with the same decision, the answer would clearly be Tucker, and it's not close. So what changed?

Image via: AT&T SportsNet/Screenshot.

On the left is an at-bat early in the season when the Dodgers came to Houston. The right hand side photo is from last week when the Diamondbacks came to town. As you can see, Tucker closed off his stance. It's crazy to think that this minute of a change can lead to such crazy results, but that's what happened.

Here is a swing against Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen on August 6th. The offset camera angle makes Tucker's stance look a little more closed off than it really is, as this is the portion early in the year where he hadn't yet closed his stance off. Gallen throws an 83 MPH breaking ball on the outside part of the dish. It really isn't a great pitch, as it backs up on him a little bit and he hangs it, but Tucker blows out his front side, rendering him unable to do anything with that pitch other than foul it off and live to fight another day.

Now, here's an at bat against Gallen after Tucker adjusted his stance. This pitch is more center cut and hung even worse, but Tucker does something he was unable to do early in the year: drive it the other way. His closed off stance keeps his front hip from blowing out completely, and he stays on the ball and drives it down the line for a double. Notice how the ball is backspun down the line with true ball flight, not slicing, that shows just how well he drove it.

August 20th, the last game of the Seattle series before the Astros headed to Colorado, was the first time Tucker's stance was clearly closed off. Entering that game, Tucker was batting .192/.234/.329. He ended the season batting .268/.325/.512. That is quite the turnaround.

On August 6th, the day of that first swing against Gallen, Tucker had a hard hit % of 38.5%, a contact rate of 75.6%, a K% of 29.3%, and a BB% of 7.3%.

Tucker finished with a hard hit % of 44.5%. That 6% increase is the difference between the 45th percentile amongst hitters and the 78th percentile. Wow. Tucker also ended the year with a 79.5% contact percentage, a 4% increase. That significant increase helped him cut down on his strikeouts, as he ended the year with a 21.2% K%. His BB% stayed the same, as he ended at 7.1%, but three strikeouts for every walk is way better than four strikeouts for every walk.

All in all, the stance change gave Tucker more plate coverage. He still has the fast hands and instincts to react to pitches on the inner third, but instead of hooking them foul like he did, he's been keeping them fair. On top of that, Tucker now has plate coverage on the outer third of the plate, making him a more dangerous and consistent hitter. With one small change, Tucker went from a platoon bat, at best, to well above average amongst nearly every indicator of success.

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Houston's winning streak moves to six

Eighth-inning rally powers Astros to series sweep over Rangers

Yuli Gurriel brought in the go-ahead run late in Sunday's game. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Winners in the first three games of this series and their last five games overall, the Astros continued their climb towards the A's for first place in the AL West. They completed the four-game sweep, ending a successful homestand on a positive note before heading on the road.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 2

Astros' Record: 24-17, tied for first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brooks Raley (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Joely Rodriguez (1-2)

Astros strike first, McCullers Jr. goes six scoreless

After the Rangers went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Houston grabbed an early lead off the bat of Alex Bregman. He provided the third single of the inning, a one-out RBI to put the Astros in front 1-0, a score which would hold steady for a while. Another run didn't come across until the bottom of the fifth when Houston would load the bases with one out when Carlos Correa would get an RBI groundball to double the lead to 2-0.

Lance McCullers Jr. did well with the small lead, backing up his recent eight-inning gem with a quality start against Texas. He allowed a couple of hits each in the third and fourth but would erase the runners with no damage allowed. The Rangers threatened in the top of the sixth with a leadoff double before the runner moved to third on a wild pitch, putting him in a great position with no outs. McCullers Jr. would come away unscathed, finishing the inning and his day by retiring the next three batters. His final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 95 P.

Rangers tie it against Scrubb

First out of Houston's bullpen was Andre Scrubb, and he would not fare as well as the Astros starter. A leadoff single turned into a two-run game-tying homer, making it 2-2 before Scrubb would sit down the next three in order. Still tied in the top of the eighth, Brooks Raley had a terrific inning, striking out the three batters he faced.

Houston rallies ahead in the eighth for the four-game sweep

The top of Houston's order mounted a threat in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out to try and regain the lead. Yuli Gurriel would come through with the go-ahead at-bat, getting a sac fly to put the Astros back in front 3-2. A two-out walk loaded the bases again, setting up Chas McCormick to provide two insurance runs on a two-RBI single.

Myles Straw added one more on an RBI single, making it a four-run game at 6-2 heading to the ninth. Enoli Paredes made his long-awaited return from the IL, appearing for the first time since April 8th to try and close things out in the ninth. He tossed a scoreless inning, finishing off the four-game sweep, extending Houston's winning streak to six games, and keeping them in step with Oakland for the AL West lead.

Up Next: After a day off on Monday, the Astros will begin a six-game road trip on Tuesday. They'll kick off a three-game set in Oakland against the A's at 8:40 PM, an exciting matchup to determine who will head into the weekend atop the division. While Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA) is the expected starter for Houston, Oakland has not yet determined their rotation for the series.

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