SportsMap Weekend Boxing Rewind

Manny proves age is just a number

Photo courtesy of Premier Boxing Champions.

Manny Pacquaio outworked, outsmarted and outslugged Keith Thurman on Saturday night in Las Vegas to claim the WBA Welterweight Super Title and re-announce his presence to the rest of the division. Pacquiao looked like his old self, especially early in the fight, to win a clear but competitive decision over Thurman, who entered the ring ten years Pacquiao's younger. Ringside judges scored the fight 114-113 for Thurman and 115-112 (twice) for Pacquiao. SportsMap.com also scored the bout 115-112 in favor of Pacquiao.

Pacquiao, who now splits his time between boxing and senatorial duties in the Philippines, looked like vintage Manny in the early going, landing a right hook near the end of the first round that sent Thurman sprawling to the canvas. Thurman was up quickly and didn't appear to be badly hurt by the knockdown. Pacquiao continued the quick start by landing the harder, more damaging punches throughout the first half of the fight. Pacquiao routinely initiated the action by pressuring Thurman with flurries of combinations. The knockdown, paired with Pacquiao's early success gave him an advantage on the scorecards he would never relinquish.

Thurman began to feel Pacquiao out as the fight moved into the middle rounds, timing Pacquiao's volume combinations with well placed counters. While Thurman snapped Pacquiao's head back at times, he never rose beyond competitive and never seemed to take the fight back over from Pacquiao, who laid claim to it following the knockdown.

If there was any doubt the 40 year old could finish off the victory, it was removed in round ten, when Pacquiao badly hurt Thurman with a body shot. The blow left Thurman covering up to the body and leaving his head vulnerable to combinations for the remainder of the round. Thurman bounced back with a nice round 11 but the damage was done. Entering the final stanza Thurman needed a knockout. But once again it was Pacquiao who landed the heavier work.

Thurman was gracious in defeat, saying he felt the fight was close but acknowledged that he had lost. It was the first defeat in Thurman's career. He expressed interest in making a rematch.

By winning Pacquiao once again has claim to being a top-3 welterweight in the world, along with PBC stablemate Errol Spence as well as Terence Crawford. A unification bout with Spence, the IBF welterweight champion, would be easy to make. However it won't be made in the immediate future. Spence is set to fight WBC welterweight champion Shawn Porter in September. Spence would be a heavy favorite over Pacquiao. Because of this fact, paired with Pacquiao's marketability, a fight between the two would likely only be made it what would be Pacquiao's last fight. After Saturday's performance Pacquiao's career doesn't appear to be anywhere close to finish, so I would expect Manny to be back in the ring in the fall against the mandatory challenger for his WBA title.

UGAS DOMINATES FIGUEROA

On the undercard Cuban national Yordenis Ugas has no trouble defeating Omar Figueroa, winning a unanimous decision by scores of 119-107 (three times.) SportsMap.com also scored the fight 119-107 for Ugas.

Ugas won every minute of every round, beating Figueroa at his own game. Figueroa, content to fight on the inside, was a step behind the quicker, more technically skilled Ugas. He was repeatedly countered with uppercuts up the middle, and never made any adjustments that led observers to believe Figueroa could solve Ugas. The fight makes Ugas the mandatory challenger for the WBC welterweight title. Ugas fought Porter for the WBC title earlier in the year and lost a controversial decision.

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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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