THE FRIDAY CODY STOOTS 6 PACK

Jaguars are vulnerable, but can Texans take advantage?

The Jags D has not been as dominant this year. Jacksonvillejaguars.com

It's the Friday Stoots 6-Pack on SportsMap with plenty to get you ready for the NFL weekend. 

1. Brock Osweiler leads the Dolphins this week yet again with Ryan Tannehill injured. This week the Lions off a bye get Brock and company. He had some great stats and some very Osweilerian plays against the Bears in the overtime win last week. With injuries mounting and Osweiler's success, the Dolphins could be looking to move on from the former Texas A&M product. Not for Brock, goodness no. But for a rookie or other available free agent. As for Brock, just stay healthy so Thursday Night Football we get the Osweiler return game we were robbed of last year. 

2. The Bears might be in for a rude awakening this week. They've had a nice season but second-year quarterback against the greatest coach in NFL history is a recipe for disaster. Khalil Mack is great but there should be an expectation the Patriots do to him as they do with all great defenders: neutralize. It will be an interesting one for Chicago, who went from rebuilding to ready with the addition of Mack but have had two disappointing losses. A nice measuring stick for the Bears and a good challenge for the Patriots. 

3. There might be three games with eye-popping scores Sunday. Browns-Buccaneers has shootout written all over it with the Browns being inconsistent on defense and offense the Buccaneers terrible defense is the recipe to get going. Jameis Winston played his tail off and he's trying to stick as the starter so he's motivated to sling it and their run game stinks. The Ravens have put up big numbers and the Saints bring a rested but bad defense. Brees and Flacco is an offensive showcase in today's NFL. Then Sunday Night Football features "Showtime" Patrick Mahomes and his team's awful defense against Andy Dalton and the surprisingly good Cincinnati offense. 

4. The Texans might have yet another new-look offensive line on Sunday. Guard Zach Fulton has been starting at the right guard spot but an ankle injury has sidelined him this week. If he can't play against the Jaguars it could be Greg Mancz at guard. The Jaguars haven't had the success of last year rushing the passer but they're still a talented bunch. Yet another moving part for the Texans offensive line could spell doom for a team that has allowed almost the most sacks and by far the most quarterback hits in the NFL.

5. Jacksonville is way behind statistically from last year. Their interceptions are way down, just three this year and 25 spots in the NFL ranking off their second-place finish last year. They are way down on sacks too. The Jaguars were second last season and find themselves 18th this season. They have actually had success in not giving up yards but their rush defense isn't great. The Texans could use the balance to help protect Watson and get the offense going. 

6. If the NFL is truly a quarterback league why aren't we all picking the Texans to win this game? Deshaun Watson, on his worst day, is so much better than Blake Bortles. The Jaguars wideouts pale in comparison to the Texans pass catchers. The rushing advantage and the offensive line is tilted to Jacksonville. The Texans defense is playing better than the Jaguars right this minute. Now, why people, including myself, are picking the Jaguars. They are coached better. Doug Marrone and his staff are better at coaching than Bill O'Brien and his staff. The Texans have turnovers in 20 straight games and have thrown an interception in 17 straight games. They commit penalties too often. Houston can't score in the red zone despite being unstoppable last year. It's coaching. From top to bottom. It should be the difference Sunday. 

 

 

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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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