FALCON POINTS

Despite concerns, the NFL season will happen in some form

Texans' JJ Watt has some concerns. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Spoiler alert: There will be NFL football this season. No matter what else you read here, take heart in that. There might be fits and starts, delays and problems, but it will happen, despite a lot of chatter otherwise. There will be a lot of negotiation back and forth, much like there was with baseball. It will be frustrating and sometimes infuriating, but something will get done. Let's start with that.

Still, players like J.J. Watt have every right to be concerned. Playing games in home stadiums will not be easy.

First off, the concern of illness is not high for athletes, although the Rona can be tough on anyone at its worse. But their families, team support staff, coaches...all would be at risk. While the NBA and NHL are playing in a bubble, NFL players will not, which means they will be more likely to be exposed.

They will also be in constant contact with each other on the field, so the illness will get passed along if someone has it. There will be no surprise if multiple players opt out, including a few big names. That is perfectly OK; players have every right to make those kinds of decisions.

It's a decision that transcends sports. Many companies are having to make similar choices. In fact, re-opening schools will have a related impact. While the students should be OK, many of the teachers will be at risk. The difference is that fewer of them will be able to opt out, simply because they can't afford to do so. That dynamic, plus the contact of the sport, probably means college football is not as likely to happen.

But the NFL will still likely figure out a way. Limited or no fans, the TV deals alone are too much to ignore. European soccer has been able to thrive under a similar model, but while there is contact, it is not what NFL players endure. Baseball is doing it as well, but there is limited physical contact, so the risk is not as high. Regardless, it is hard to predict how things will play out.

The NFL could have limited travel by creating a bubble model of its own. Playing games in cities like Houston or Dallas, which have multiple quality stadiums, eliminating interconference play and keeping players in one city could limit the possibility of the disease spreading. But that is not something that has been considered.

So with this model comes risk, and the players are rightfully concerned. The result? There will be a lot of back and forth. Some players will sit out, and that may include impact athletes like Watt, which will have a negative effect on some teams. There will be concerns that the season won't happen. But in the end, a deal will be made, and there will be football.

And risk. But the reward will be America's greatest sport having some semblance of a season.

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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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