Every-Thing Sports

Hey Andrew Luck haters: Let people live their lives

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Life's a funny thing. We go about our daily tasks and never pause to think about things. More often than not, we rarely stop to smell the roses and appreciate everything. These days, we've become so task-oriented and focused that we forget what life is all about. Andrew Luck decided to do that and people got their panties all in a bunch over it. He's a 29 year old athlete who was seemingly on top of the world. He just won Comeback Player of the Year and led his team to the Divisional round of the playoffs last season. He's made upwards of $97 million dollars in his career thus far. Don't forget about his Bachelor's Degree in Architectural Design from Stanford. He got married earlier this year to his longtime girlfriend and recently announced they're expecting their first child.

While his retirement may come as a shock to many, it shouldn't. Other notable athletes have retired "prematurely" before Luck did. My guess is that the timing caused most of the kerfuffle. Was anyone this upset when Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson left the Lions? To a much lesser extent, did anyone get upset when Royce White stepped away from the NBA? Adam LaRoche turned down $13 million dollars from the White Sox over an issue concerning his son. Did he catch as much flack as Luck? Here are a few common themes as to why guys leave the game early:

Money isn't a factor

Today's pro athletes are getting paid exponentially more than athletes have ever gotten paid. There are also tons more revenue streams for them outside of the sport in which they became famous for. Social media has abled them to build a brand for themselves to capitalize on their fame. The athletes of today have more than enough money and ways to make money.

Injury concerns

With the advancements in medical technology, athletes today have access to more information about their bodies and injuries than ever before. Knowing the depth of an injury and likelihood of it happening again or worsening can cause you to rethink things. Guys like Luck are fully aware of what's going on with their bodies and choose long-term health over short-term fame and glory. Patrick Willis did the same thing a few years ago when he retired from the 49ers. A nagging toe injury made him walk away from the game when he was still in his prime. Football players are typically the ones who this happens to.

Family

Like I mentioned earlier, Adam LaRoche turned down $13 million dollars from the White Sox over an issue with his son. Willis was the primary caregiver for his younger siblings. Luck just got married and has a kid on the way. Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans stepped away for a while to care for his wife who was battling cancer. Dereck Fisher once facilitated his way back to the Lakers from the Jazz because his daughter's medical treatments were in Los Angeles. These guys all chose family over the games they play for one reason or another. Female athletes have it tougher than men. They want families of their own, but often time have to miss significant portions of their careers to have babies. Serena Williams is trying to come back after having a baby, but is already almost twice the age of some of her competition.

More than a game

Some of these guys have a depth of personality that most of us don't. They have an ability to see the bigger picture of life and go wit their gut. Like it or not, Colin Kaepernick knew what he was getting himself into, but chose to do what he believed felt was necessary. Pat Tillman walked away from the NFL to serve in the Army and gave his life in the process. Myron Rolle was an All-American safety at Florida State who was drafted in the sixth round by the Titans. He was also a Rhodes Scholar that eventually chose academia over football and is now a neurosurgery resident at Harvard Medical School.

Sometimes we as fans can obsess over what athletes do. The booing of Luck after the game the other night was horsesh--. This man made a decision that's best for him and his family. So what if your football team sucks again! What about him living his life the way he sees fit? Sometimes we have to realize there's a person inside those lines wearing those uniforms. They have feelings and lives like the rest of us and deserve to live them the way they see fit. Many of them walk off the beaten path. People like that are generally smart, funny, and fun to be around. They should be apperciated and celebrated. I know because my little cousin Vincent who recently passed away was one of those people. Love them while they're here. Appreciate their athletic prowess while they play. One day, they could be gone and you'll never get a chance to do so again.

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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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