WIZARDS 135, Rockets 131

James Harden puts up 54, but Rockets fall to Wizards

James Harden is winless with the headband. Rockets.com

Game 19 found the Houston Rockets staring at a .500 record with the intent of gaining ground in a tight Western Conference. At the end of a three-game road trip, the Rockets faced off against an internally conflicted Washington Wizards team that started the season off poorly much like Houston, but - like Houston - had recently began to recompose themselves.

Houston exploded out of the gate behind an early Eric Gordon 3-point barrage. A headbanded James Harden would back Gordon up with 13 of his own as the rockets exploded out to an early 17 point lead. Sloppy basketball would leave Clint Capela and Marquese Chriss in foul trouble, allowing the Wizards to crawl back. The Rockets would go 1-10 from three in the second and the Wizards would seize the lead late in the half behind a series of John Wall layup drives.

While the score remained close, the Wizards would maintain their lead throughout the third quarter. Harden and Gordon would continue their unconscious assault on the Wizards and as the third quarter drew to a close, the Rockets would seize a 4-point lead. Harden and Gordon poured in 44 points and 27 points respectively.

The fourth quarter would erupt into an all out dog fight with six ties over the final six minutes. Clint Capela would throw down and Harden alley-oop to tie the game at 125 before a PJ Tucker strip on the subsequent possession would give the Rockets the final opportunity to win in regulation. Gordon’s last chance shot would be blocked, however, and for the second time on their three game road trip, the Rockets would head to overtime.

Houston’s thin bench would finally prove to be the difference in the contest, and as fatigue set in, the Wizards slowly pulled away to a four-point victory behind John Wall’s 36 points and Bradley Beal’s 32. Harden would finish with 54 points and 13 assists, while Gordon followed with a season-high 36 points.

Game Notes

The Rockets played without Chris Paul for the second straight night, as he was kept out with what was described as a sore left leg. Gerald Green sat as well with a sore right ankle.

James Harden was the second player this season to score 50-plus points in a loss. Including tonight, Harden accounts for three of the four most recent 50-point losing performances, both of which came last season. Harden is the 6th player this season with a 50-point game.

Eric Gordon’s 36 points are tied for his second highest in his career. Gordon scored 36 points once before in 2010 in a win against the Timberwolves. Gordon also finished with a career high tying 8 three-pointers. Gordon knocked down five 3-pointers in Saturday’s matchup, but prior to that he had gone 15-60 in his previous 7 starts.

Shooting guard Danuel House was called up from the G-League to fill in with Paul and Green both out, and was fed 28 minutes in his first game with the Rockets. The newcomer finished with four points, three rebounds, and one assist.

Clint Capela added his 8th double-double of the season with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks.

Harden currently holds a lifetime winless streak when sporting a headband. He does average 54 points, 13 assists, and 3 steals, though.

Next Up:

Rockets at home versus the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday at 7 p.m.

 

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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