THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for the Monster Mile at Dover

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This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the self proclaimed Monster Mile at the Dover motor speedway in Dover, Delaware. This track is a one mile oval with extreme 24 degree banking which makes the race track tough to negotiate seeing how close the drivers are to the wall. Because of its relatively narrow configuration, there isn't a lot of room to go around which has made for close quarters racing. Another major variable about this race track is entering pit road. It seems like every time the sport goes here, a contending driver gets a speeding penalty that hurts their chances of victory. This should play a major role in deciding who wins come Sunday.

The big storyline coming into this week was NASCAR's decision to revert back to single-car qualifying. Starting this week, on tracks that are one mile and longer, the field will run one timed lap and on short tracks like Bristol they will run two timed laps. It is important to note that even though it's going away on the ovals, group qualifying will remain on the road courses. Back in 2014, NASCAR had the idea to have the cars run their time trials in one big group in a span of three rounds. At first it turned out to work OK but when NASCAR introduced this high downforce package that emphasizes the draft, it never really allowed the best car to qualify on pole which was kind of unfair. While yes, it was entertaining and allowed for drives you don't usually see up front, it kind of took away from what it is supposed to be about. The way that I see it, NASCAR has been doing single car runs for many years and it has worked perfectly in deciding who starts where. While I am not to keen on when they made the change, I think that this was was the right decision to make, especially for the owners and the money they put into setting up the car for this session. Now they don't have to worry about the added variable of possibly getting into a crash with another car or losing time getting stuck by a slower car.

The last time NASCAR came to Dover, Chase Elliott went on to capture his second career victory after fending off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps. This week, I expect to see much of the same. After winning last week in at Talladega, NASCAR's prodigal son appears to be in a great position to back it up with another victory. From the beginning, Elliott has always had the knack for this track and while other young drivers struggled here, he has absolutely flourished. Only once has he finished outside of the top 10 here and even then, he still recorded a respectable 12th-place finish and even in that race he was running as high as fifth. Look for the Napa Auto Parts Chevy Camaro to be around the front this week.

One driver to look out for this week is Ryan Newman. It has been refreshing site to see the rocket man running well this year as he currently sits in a playoff spot in thirteenth. He is riding high off three consecutive top ten finishes and this week he is going to a track where he has won at three times in his career. Among his peers, Ryan Newman is one of the elder statesmen on the grid but it is no secret that he can still drive a race car. I am not sure if he will win this week but I think that he will easily be able to continue his string of top tens this weekend.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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The answers in the outfield are becoming clearer than the Astros hoped

*Note: Some Advanced Statistics, courtesy of Baseball Savant, do not include Thursday night's game against the Diamondbacks. Others, courtesy of Fangraphs, do include Thursday night's game*

The Corpus Christi Hooks Twitter account confirmed that Yordan Alvarez is alive and able to take swings, meaning the slugger's return to the Astros lineup is getting closer. Alvarez will get a bulk of the DH at-bats. With Springer being the primary center fielder, and Brantley being the primary left fielder, Dusty Baker will have to choose between Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker for his primary right fielder. Who should he choose?

How do you boil down picking between two players to one question? What is the most important thing to judge a hitter on? The answer

The better player is the player that does the most damage consistently.

Sounds easy, right? But how do you judge that?

  1. Hard Hit %
  2. BB:K
  3. Contact %

Why these three? Well, hitting the ball hard usually leads to damage, so it is good to hit the ball hard. A player that walks and strikes out roughly the same amount is generally pretty consistent, so BB:K ratios closer to 1:1 (this is extremely rare, and a vast majority of MLB hitters are worse than 1:2) are good. Lastly, players that make contact a lot not only can generally do more of the little things like moving runners over, lifting a ball with a runner on third, or executing a hit & run, but also they generally don't swing and miss at their pitch when they get it. Action happens.

Kyle Tucker has a hard hit % of 38.5% so far in 2020. That is 55th in MLB amongst players with at least 25 batted balls (Tucker has 26). For context, Padres star third baseman Manny Machado is ranked 54th with 38.9%, thorn-in-the-Astros-side Kole Calhoun is t-58th at 37.9%, and Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis leads the big leagues at 66.7% (wow).

So, more than 1/3rd of the time Tucker makes contact, he hits it hard. That's pretty good...But how often does he make contact?

Tucker has a contact % of 75.6%, meaning he makes contact with the baseball three out of every four times he swings the bat. That is 88th amongst qualified hitters. He is 1% worse than the slumping Jose Altuve, tied with that guy Kole Calhoun again, and about 1% better than the also-slumping George Springer. Tucker is far from elite at putting the bat on the ball, but he isn't terrible either.

However, despite hitting baseball's hard one-third of the time and making contact three-thirds of the time, Tucker strikes out entirely too much. His 29.3% K-rate is the 35th worst in baseball, and he doesn't offset the strikeouts with a lot of walks either. Tucker walks just 7.3% of the time, which is the 62nd lowest. Ultimately, Tucker has a BB:K ratio of 0.25, which is 49th in MLB right now.

Lastly, while it isn't part of the criteria above, Tucker doesn't have a very diverse batted ball portfolio. Tucker hits the ball to the pull side 65% of the time, and he's hit it on the ground 50% of the time. Eventually, teams will start placing heavy shifts on him, and those balls that have snuck through holes in the early parts of the year won't anymore.

But, is Josh Reddick any better? While none of Tucker's numbers blow you away, they aren't terrible, and he's a young prospect that needs playing time to develop.

Reddick has a 31.3% hard hit % so far in 2020, about seven percentage points below Tucker. 31.3% places Reddick in 96th place, between players like Marcus Semien and Yuli Gurriel. So, Tucker has Reddick beat here, but it isn't by a landslide.

Reddick has a contact % of 80.5%, which is 50th in MLB right now. He's better than Tucker by 5%, and he's in the top quartile in baseball. Reddick also sprays the ball around when he makes contact, hitting the ball to center field 43.8% of the time, right field 37.5% of the time, and left field 18.8% of the time. His ground ball rate is also 31%, almost 20% lower than Tucker's. That would explain why Reddick and Tucker's Barrel % (hard hit baseballs hit in the most desired exit velocity) are within a percentage point of one another despite Tucker having a seven point hard hit advantage.

Lastly, Reddick doesn't strike out very much. He strikes out 14% of the time, which is the 34th best K% in baseball (funny enough, Gurriel and Brantley are 33rd and 32nd). While Reddick doesn't walk a ton either, he walks more than Tucker, clocking in four percentage points better at 11.6%. That results in a BB:K ratio of 0.83, which is tied with Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman for the 30th best in MLB.

Throw in the fact that Reddick plays significantly better defense, and it's really a no-brainer who should play. Astros fans might want the sexier and newer model in Tucker, but it isn't time to trade in old reliable just yet. When Yordan Alvarez returns, Josh Reddick is the right answer in right field.

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