Every-Thing Sports

Let's discuss the best ways to watch the return of the Astros

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

MLB is returning to live games with their pandemic-shortened schedule on Thursday, July 23. The rest of the league will play on Friday, July 24, including your Houston Astros. Fans won't be able to be in attendance at the games, but there's no doubt in my mind many will be tuned in. After all, there's very few live sports we have to watch that will hold our attention.

Sure there are other live sports to watch, but do they really hold a candle to one of the big three? UFC has held some entertaining fights. I've seen some decent boxing matches as well. My son has gotten us into racing since watching Ford vs Ferrari. The Korean Baseball Organization is pro baseball, but it comes on at like 3am. So now that we're getting one of the big three back, how do you plan on watching?

Small gatherings

Some people will gather together to celebrate. I know for a fact that Cobos Que will be open and serving his mouth-watering BBQ. There's going to be some good food served and I suggest you make plans accordingly. For the few places that are allowed to remain open, I'm sure folks will either sit and eat, or order to go. Several friends have said they will gather to watch together as well. Whatever you choose to do when it comes to gathering, please be responsible. Mask up and practice social distancing.

Flying solo

There will be many more who will choose to watch the game alone and/or in the comfort of their own homes. This is my go-to move. I describe myself as an antisocial extrovert. I can be around people and seem like a people person, when in reality I'm fighting off my anxiety because I'm around other people. This is also the safest move since the city is back on red alert. Order food to go or have it delivered. Pour your favorite beverage. Sit back and enjoy the Astros inside your own four walls.

Drinking Haterade

With success, comes detractors. Add that to the fact that the Astros were hit hard by MLB for cheating, and you have fans of other teams ready to watch the Astros just to see them fail. Hell, there are even members of the media that want to see them fail! Sure, they cheated, got caught and took it on the chin. But they weren't the only ones. They cheated and deserve the venom spewed their way. The holier-than-thou attitude by others is what truly gets me. With the shortened season and no fans, some are actually angry that the Astros won't get the treatment they deserve. When you allow that level of hate to consume you, you deserve to be miserable.

Indifferent

Another segment of society will be totally indifferent. They'll watch if it's on and there's nothing else holding their attention, or maybe catch some highlights. These are the ones that don't really care if MLB comes back or not. I'd love to see a Venn diagram of those in this category and their overwhelming love for football and/or basketball. MLB has done an awful job of appealing to the younger audience. Their dwindling audience is getting older and older. Disposable income is growing with the demographic they're failing to reach. This is why MLB has fallen to third among pro sports and is in danger of falling further.

Much talk was centered around the league and players publically arguing over money. Now that they've gotten things settled and are set to return, they can focus on the issue at hand: seizing the moment. The NBA is set to restart their season around the same time. The NFL is on target to open training camps as well. MLB has an opportunity to grab a hold of their moment in the spotlight to get a foothold on a segment of the sporting world. The Astros hold a special place in the hearts of their fans because of their recent success. I could see this season paying off big time for them. Having two aging pitchers and another coming off major surgery favors them. I'm ready to see what this team can accomplish. 60 games is plenty enough time to determine a champion. Let's sit back and enjoy the Astros season. Who knows, it may be one of their last title runs given the state of the roster...

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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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