CODY STOOTS/PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS

Mariota unimpressive, Watson taking shots ahead of Monday

Marcus Mariota had a rough game against the Colts. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Pro Football Focus grades each individual player's performance and assigns them a grade. All 32 teams use Pro Football Focus. 

Each week we will take a look at some of the key grades as well as some from the Texans upcoming opponent. They also do great fantasy analysis and draft coverage as well. Stats are for the previous game unless otherwise noted. You can join Pro Football Focus here

Brennan Scarlett - 94.4 Defensive Grade

Hello, secret weapon. Who knew he could play inside linebacker so well? The Texans it seems. And now, Washington. He only produced a handful of tackles but came up with an interception and did one heck of a job in coverage for the Texans. Scarlett has been a special teams weapon for almost the entire season and now in a pinch, the Texans found a good defensive use for him outside of his normal position. This is a testament to Scarlett and the coaching which helped get him ready. 

Greg Mancz - 29.5 Pass Blocking Grade

Mancz came in for an injured Zach Fulton and had a surprisingly low grade. Mancz had done well filling in for Fulton earlier in the season when he was injured. He allowed the most pressures on the team in this game with four. It may have been a bad matchup for him, much like the Giants were earlier in the season when he filled in at left guard. A rare bad game for Mancz in this spot as he had been solid. 

Deshaun Watson - 14.9 Yards Per Attempt on Blitzed Plays

Watson saw a blitz on 10 dropbacks and was sacked twice. On the other eight plays, he tried to make a big play. It was the only situation in which he had a double-digit YPA. Watson's YPA was short, the Texans had a lot of yards after the catch. This is something Watson is very capable of doing because the offensive line has been good recently and his feet let him extend the plays. With play-calling being fairly conservative, Watson taking advantage of the defense risking blitz is good to see. 

Marcus Mariota - 34.8 Offensive Grade

The Titans quarterback is hurt and coming off a horrible performance in Indianapolis. His worst of the season in fact. He passed for just 85 yards and was injured and replaced by Blaine Gabbert. The week before though he posted his highest grade of the season against New England. He's about average for the season and that's what the Texans just faced in Alex Smith. He didn't play against the Texans earlier in the year, but ahead of Monday, he has a chance to finally impress against the Texans. He's thrown just one touchdown pass in three games against Houston. 

As always, you can join Pro Football Focus here

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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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