Astros Prospect is Fine

Kyle Tucker: Doomed or destined?

Kyle Tucker is still adjusting. Rich Schultz

The doubters are already out in force.  Houston Astros top prospect Kyle Tucker hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since being called up on July 7, and some fans are calling for him to be sent back to AAA.  In this piece, I will break down Tucker’s swing mechanics, and we’ll see how it’s just a matter of time until Tucker is hitting at a clip similar to how he swung it in the minor leagues.

I want to preface this by saying that I’m far from a “Tucker truther.”  I hated the Tucker selection in the draft, and said the Astros should’ve taken Andrew Benintendi out of Arkansas with that selection instead of Tucker.  I thought he had a complex, flawed swing that wouldn’t translate to the next level. However, Tucker has made a multitude of adjustments since entering the Astros system, and his mechanics are ideal for the era of launch angle.

We’ll start by breaking down Tucker’s swing from high school, just months prior to the Astros taking him in the draft.

Tucker’s high school setup is on the left.  The screenshot is from a batting practice session at the Under Armour All-America showcase in 2014.  In this video, he has a very narrow stance, less than shoulder width apart. This is a consistent set up for Tucker across the range of videos you can find of him from high school.

This sort of stance can be complicated, as it requires lots of moving parts in order to get into a good hitting position.

Now, compare that set up to the picture in the Astros uniform on the right.  That is taken from last year’s Arizona Fall League, which his swing most closely resembles now.  His stance is a little bit more spread out, although it is still fairly upright. This will occasionally lead to issues with timing, which is what I think is Tucker’s big issue right now, but timing is easily fixable, something that can be found in an instant.  He’s in a much better spot on the right than the left.

Next we look at Tucker at foot plant from his high school swing.  There’s multiple problems in this screenshot.


First, take a look at his head movement.  In the screenshot from the setup above, the top of his head is even with the top of the railing from the seating behind him.  At foot plant, his head is considerably lower. This is spurred by the narrow stance he has. It’s hard enough to hit with your head still, imagine how hard it is to hit with it moving like his is.

Then we shift his attention to his weight transfer.  See how his front leg has some bend in it and his hips are on an upward plane.  With his hips riding towards the pitcher he’s lost some power and some bat speed.  Doing this will also lead to a lot of rollover, pull-side ground balls. Essentially, these two mechanical flaws lead to a lot of problems.

Shift your attention to Tucker at foot plant in the Arizona Fall League.  There’s still some head movement, but it’s not as severe, and even in the time since then he’s made adjustments to lessen the head movement.  My guess is that he will just have that quirk his entire career, and that’s an OK quirk to have, it’s just not ideal. Where he’s made huge changes is at foot plant.  His weight is in the middle of his body, he’s very balanced. He hasn’t lost his hips. This will allow him to keep his weight back and tap into that power and leverage that his long, lanky frame provides.


Now we compare the two swings at contact point.  The orange line from his toe to the top of his head is to help show the angle in his body lean.  It is tough to see at a glance, but if you look closely, you can see that in his professional swing he is quite a few more degrees back than in the high school swing.  These few degrees go a long way in creating launch angle and providing power in the swing. Also look at the orange line perpendicular to the ground. In the high school video, his back leg has driven through, which is a linear quality that is against new school launch angle beliefs.  Absolutely nothing is wrong with this, as many hitters in the majors do this. However, on the right you can see his head is directly over the piping on his pants and his foot has almost entirely stayed planted where it started. This is a rotational quality, and the more rotational a hitter is, they usually hit for more power.  

I also drew the blue line on the right to show how locked in his front side is, and how posted up he is against that front leg.  All hitters should have that front leg locked in at contact, as it will help maximize bat speed. Tucker does it beautifully in his professional swing.  He still does it in the high school swing, but he doesn’t lock in until much closer to contact.

So what does all of this mean?  Well, it means that Tucker has an extremely advanced swing and he’ll be fine.  I see timing issues with Tucker right now, which probably comes from some mental pressure and nervousness that comes with being a big leaguer.  Put shortly, players with the track record of success and the advanced swing of Tucker don’t struggle for long. Calm down and give him time Astros fans, he’ll be fine.

 

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It's easy to blame Bill O'Brien for the Texans woes. He is a lousy GM, a below average play caller and his offense is boring, predictable and ineffective. Not once has he had a top 10 offense in the league. So he does not get a pass here.

But Deshaun Watson shouldn't, either.

Last year, Watson was in the MVP conversation entering the game in Baltimore. Four of the nine games he played before that, Watson had an ESPN Total QBR over 85, which is playing at an elite level.

Since that 41-7 debacle (where his QBR was 13.6), Watson has played 10 games. He has topped 85 just once (and barely - 85.6) in the win over the Patriots. While QBR is not the be all end all, it shows a trend. And before you blame the talent around him or the ridiculously stupid DeAndre Hopkins trade, eight of those games were with Hopkins in the lineup.

Over his last 10 games, Patrick Mahomes has done it five times (and just missed last week at 84.7). Lamar Jackson has done it six times in his last 10. Russell Wilson is six for his last 10. Dak Prescott? Three. Aaron Rodgers? Three. Ryan Tannehill? Three. Josh Allen? Two. Lamar Jackson led the league last year with an 83 for the season. Watson was sixth at 71.3. To be a top 10 quarterback, you had to average 64.1. In two games this season, Watson sits 20th, about where he was over the last six regular season games and two playoff games last year.

In essence, Deshaun Watson - who often gets compared to those players - is not on their level. Yes, O'Brien has a lot to do with it, but it's also time to start looking at Watson's performance and regression as an NFL quarterback.

In 2018, Watson had four such games. In 2017, four in six starts. And now ONE since that Baltimore game. In fact, he has topped 80 just once in that stretch, and 60 just three times.

What it tells us is Watson has been an average quarterback over his last 10 starts. The Texans invested heavily in an offensive line to protect him. They have added depth at WR but a net loss without Hopkins. Elite quarterbacks turn in performances like that roughly half the time. Getting more consistent has always been an issue for Watson. But since that Baltimore game, he has not been close. And he is being paid to be elite.

In the end, O'Brien is still the main culprit. He has hand picked all the players around Watson, he designed the offense, and he controls everything.

But it's time to quit giving Watson a pass. Right now, he is part of the problem.

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