The week that was

Jim Rodriguez: Josh McDaniels saga makes a lot of headlines, little sense

The Colts thought they had a head coach.

So there was Josh McDaniels cleaning out his office at One Patriot Place. A five-time Super Bowl winner as member of the Patriots staff...the last two titles as offensive coordinator.  

Like he did once before, it was time to leave the comforts of one road in, one road out of Foxborough to be a head coach in the National Football League.

His first venture didn’t go so well. 11-17 in not quite two seasons with the Broncos. But there was always a job waiting for him in the Belichick regime. 

McDaniels is to the pro game what Lane Kiffin is to college. Young. Fiery. Great at his job. McDaniels also has Tom Brady’s ear. So much, if not all, of the team’s success is Brady’s right arm and how well he works with and trusts McDaniels.

That cache gives you something we all strive for in life, leverage.

Not surprisingly, the calls to be a head coach came again. This time it would be different for McDaniels. He wanted to go to a place he would feel comfortable. A place with an established quarterback. He found that with the Indianapolis Colts. Just one problem: the Colts may be Belichick’s greatest nemesis. 

It was the Colts that complained to the league about pass interference rules after losing to the Patriots. 

It was the Colts who erased a 21-3 AFC Championship game deficit to the Pats sending Peyton Manning’s to his first Super Bowl win.

It was the Colts who blew the whistle spawning deflate-gate.  

There is no love lost between owners, Jim Irsay and Robert Kraft. And now Indy has the man who has Tom Brady’s ear. 

So as McDaniels is packing up his desk with a plane waiting to take him to Indiana; McDaniels gets summoned to Kraft’s office.

You can only imagine what was in that room right... dancing girls? A nice seafood platter? Briefcases full of money? 

Turns out it was Bill Belichick. 

McDaniels got what he wanted all along. A long term contact. Assistants don’t get that luxury. Belichick would mentor him. Pull back the curtain to see how a roster is constructed. McDaniels is the heir apparent. And just like that.. Belichick’s defense beats the Colts. 

Meanwhile all hell breaks loose in the heartland. 

Ex-Colts head coach Tony Dungy crushes McDaniels via twitter: “There is NO excuse big enough to justify this. It’s one thing to go back on your word to an organization. But having assistant coaches leave jobs to go with you then leave them out to dry is indefensible.”

Colts GM Chris Ballard addressing the media at what should have been an introductory press conference and wanted nothing to do with McDaniels after his decision to stay in New England: “There was no persuasion. Let me make this clear: I want, and we want as an organization a head coach that wants to be all in.”

McDaniels’ own agent, Bob LaMonte, who by the way represents Ballard, terminated McDaniels as a client. "My word is my bond," LaMonte told Sports Business Journal “Once you break that, there's nothing left."

Is it comfort that caused McDaniels to stay? Is it a bigger paycheck? Is Andrew Luck’s shoulder really getting better? Or was it finally getting a seat next to the King? 

Whatever it is, McDaniels will pay a heavy price. He’ll always be known as a weasel. Not sure if that’s what makes a leader of men. And as far as being a head coach again.. would you hire him? 

So what is left? "The rivalry is back on," said Ballard walking away from the podium. 

The Colts and Patriots play in Foxborough this coming season. Smells like a prime time game to me. 

I wonder if the Colts could use a corner like Malcom Butler? I hear he’s available.

You can listen to my radio show, The Sports Bosses , weekdays at 10 a.m. ET on SB Nation Radio. Follow me on Twitter @mediarodriguez

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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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