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 offense had another strong day at the plate in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking a deal with the Mariners before Tuesday's game, along with a reported deal with the Marlins on Wednesday before the finale, the Astros continued to try and bolster their bullpen with fresh arms while also focusing on this series against Seattle. Having won the night prior to even it up, it came down to the rubber game on Wednesday afternoon to decide the series.

Final Score: Astros 11, Mariners 4

Astros' Record: 63-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-5)

Losing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi (6-6)

Astros continue to score runs in Seattle

Just like in the earlier games in this series, the Astros had no problems offensively. They strung together four consecutive one-run innings, starting in the top of the second when they loaded the bases, then got an RBI groundout by Myles Straw to go up 1-0. In the top of the third, Yuli Gurriel drove one in on a two-out RBI double, bringing in Jose Altuve, who led the inning off with a double of his own. Chas McCormick led off with a single in the fourth, then later scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz.

The fourth run in as many innings came in the top of the fifth, as Gurriel would notch his second RBI with a solo homer to start that inning, pushing the lead to 4-0. They didn't stop there, and neither did Gurriel, as he would get RBI number three on the day as part of a four-run top of the sixth, with RBI hits him, Altuve, Diaz, and Carlos Correa, doubling the lead to 8-0.

Odorizzi gets to the sixth before allowing two homers

The run support gave Jake Odorizzi plenty of leeway, which he didn't need until the bottom of the sixth. He held Seattle scoreless over the first five frames, allowing just four baserunners on a hit by pitch, a walk, and two singles, all peppered over that span and erased in each inning. Kyle Seager would get the Mariners on the board in the bottom of the sixth, blasting a one-out solo homer to cut the lead to seven runs at 8-1. After a single in the next at-bat, recently traded Abraham Toro made it four games in a row with a homer, this one a two-run shot to cut the lead to 8-3 and end Odorizzi's day. His final line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 95 P.

Houston wins the series

Houston brought in Brooks Raley to finish the sixth, issuing two walks but stranding them to keep it a five-run lead. Myles Straw helped push that back to six in the top of the seventh, reaching on a single to start the innings, then stealing both second and third to get in position for Diaz's third RBI of the day, a groundout to make it 9-3. Cristian Javier was the next reliever out for the Astros, but he would not make it through the bottom of the seventh, allowing a single and three walks, the third with the bases loaded to bring in a run.

Bryan Abreu was brought in to get out of the jam, getting a strikeout to end the seventh. Then, in the top of the eighth, Kyle Tucker would put two more runs on the board with a two-run homer making the lead seven runs at 11-4. Abreu remained in for the bottom of the eighth, erasing two one-out singles to get through the frame. Brandon Bielak took over in the bottom of the ninth to close things out, posting a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the win and give Houston the series victory.

Up Next: Houston will travel down the coast to San Fransisco before getting a day off on Thursday. They'll pick up an exciting three-game series with the Giants on Friday, with the opener slated to start at 8:45 PM Central. Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, while San Fransisco's starter is TBD.

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