THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads to the Texas Motor Speedway for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

After much speculation, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Lone Star State for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. Over the past week there were rumors that NASCAR was going to relocate the race after alleged pressure from the state to cancel. But alas the show goes on and the race will continue. Like the All-Star race, Texas Motor Speedway will also allow fans on the premises as well. This track will more than likely be able to operate at fifty percent capacity so this will likely be the largest crowd since the shutdown. While there is still a lot that is unclear in the world, there will be at least some sense of normalcy come Sunday in the crowd. Hopefully everyone stays safe, wears a mask and follows social distancing guidelines. This could very well be a barometer for future fans in the stands at any point during this season. I hope that all goes well.

Chase Elliott went on to capture his first All-Star race on Wednesday. The race itself was rather lackluster as there wasn't the excitement most fans expected to see. Overall, the reason for this in my opinion was how short the race was, especially the last segment. In the final laps when Kyle Busch was chasing down Elliott, he would get closer and closer but simply didn't have enough laps to run him down and do anything with him. If this race had been fifteen laps longer, there probably would have been a lot more excitement towards the front. In the end, this idea to move the All-Star race to Bristol was well-intentioned but there were a few minor kinks. But overall it was a fairly successful All-Star race.

The one thing I hope they continue to go with in the future is the lights they put underneath the cars, that was incredible. Wouldn't it be awesome to see those at tracks like Daytona? Initially, I was a naysayer when it was announced but after seeing it in action I thought it was awesome! The two things I hope they tweak is that they put the lights on all sides of the cars, and they let the teams dictate what the color is. If they can do that, I think it would be a neat way to promote their sponsors.

As NASCAR tries to navigate its way through this global pandemic, some parts of the schedule still remain unclear as Watkins Glen will cancel their race in August and move the race to the road course at Daytona. This is something that I have been looking forward to seeing for years, and I am glad to see it is finally coming to light. It will be interesting to see how close the cars are when they enter the oval portion of the racetrack and if the leader will be able to pull away unlike what we see at a regular Daytona race. It should be fun to see how this goes. I predict it will be similar to the first race at the oval in Charlotte so you know it will be good. I look forward to seeing the end results come next month and what the future holds for this configuration.

This week, the driver I have winning is Kevin Harvick. As we all know, the 2014 champion has been head and shoulders above everyone this week, and on Sunday we will see much of the same. Since 2017, he's made this track his personal playground. He has three victories in the last six races there and hasn't finished worse than eighth. So to say he has been good there would be an understatement. I look for him to put a beatdown on the field this weekend and capture his fifth victory of the season. Look for Harvick to take his #4 back to victory lane come Sunday.

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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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