Food for thought?

Joel Blank: Texans need course in comparison shopping after O'Brien gets better deal than McCarthy

Bill O'Brien came at a steep price.

Ever since we've been old enough to make a major purchase, or smart enough to pay attention to how we grocery shop, we all are well versed in comparison shopping. It has been proven that even when we think we have found the best deal, it never hurts to shop around. You also have probably experienced at least once in your life that sick feeling when you find out that you may have paid too much.

It's with that in mind that I present to you the following comparison and ask you, if you are the Houston Texans, did you overreact and overpay to keep your head coach? It has become an unwritten rule in coaching that as you enter the final year of your contract, you -- and more specifically your agent -- are entitled to either an extension or a pink slip because being a lame duck coach has become unacceptable. Both Bill O'Brien and Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers were about to enter the final year of their respective contracts in 2018. Both coaches have a solid resume, and have achieved division championships and other accolades. The difference between the two is one coach got a four-year extension, while the other coach got an additional year to continue to prove he is worthy and deserving of a long term deal. After reading the following statistics, I will leave it up to you as to which team might have jumped the gun and given too much.

Mike McCarthy has had a pretty good run in Green Bay. In his 12-year stint with the Packers ,he has made the playoffs nine of those 12 years, been to four conference championships, won the division six times and made one Super Bowl appearance in 2010, which the Packers won by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. His best season was a 15-1 finish in 2011 and his worst season was a 6-10 campaign in 2008. Last year was a down year for both McCarthy and his team as the Packers finished 7-9, losing Aaron Rodgers to a broken collar bone that caused hm to miss nine of the final 10 games of the year after starting the schedule 4-1. McCarthy has won 63% of his games over his 12-year career as a head coach, and is (121-70-1) over that time frame.

Bill O'Brien just finished his fourth year as head coach of the Houston Texans. He is 31-33 over his career as the head coach of the red, white and blue, including three consecutive 9-7 seasons. He just completed his worst year as an NFL Head coach, finishing 4-12 after losing Rookie QB sensation Deshaun Watson to a season ending knee injury in week 8. The team lost 8 of its last 9 contests after Watson went down. O'Brien has won two division titles and one playoff game in his career as the head coach in Houston. Not a bad way to start your career as a head coach, but then again, not quite McCarthy. 

So, with all that being said, and knowing what you know as even an average football fan, which one of these two men was worthy of a five-year contract extension? Am I the only one that's finds it odd that the coach that has a better winning percentage, more career wins, more division titles, more playoff appearances, as well as four more appearances in a conference championship and one Super Bowl title is the guy who only got a 1 year extension, while the other guy received four more years with his team? Personal feelings aside, the numbers speak for themselves and the contract that O'Brien got seemed to be a textbook case of a team pressing the panic button, believing the hype, and overreacting. Maybe O'Brien should give his agent a raise, because the rumor mill was churning at the end of the season and he was supposedly first in line to succeed Bill Belichick if he retired and also the leading candidate to be the next coach of the New York Giants. We all know that agents have a way of talking to writers and getting their story out there regardless of whether it's true or not. It seems in this case as if they did nothing but back the Texans into a corner and help to secure O'Brien's new deal. Regardless of the how and why, it seems like the Texans need a crash course in comparison shopping.

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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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