THE COUCH SLOUCH

NBA should take a break from relying on 'load management'

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Let's talk load management!

("Load management" is one of those newfangled terms – like "cancel culture" and "pain point" and "deep state" and "escape room" and "Adam Sandler" – with which Couch Slouch finds little joy in encountering.)

The NBA has been swept away by load management mania. Suddenly, its players – in particular its best players – are fragile art pieces that must be handled lovingly and delicately. You watch their minutes, you rest their bodies, you manage their load.

Oh, please.

If I adhered to self-load management, I wouldn't even be writing these words; December is a five-column month and I'd definitely take a week off in November to relax my typing fingers.

The Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard recently sat out consecutive national TV games, one week apart, with the league's blessing/approval.

(Remember, as a kid, when you had to bring a doctor's note to school when missing class? NBA players now need a permission note from the league office when resting while healthy.)

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban loves load management, citing it as "the best thing to ever happen to the league." He points to the wisdom of keeping players in top shape longer, making sure they are available when the games count most in the postseason.

"The dumb thing," Cuban says, "would be to ignore the science."

No, the dumb thing would be to ignore the customers.

If I understand this correctly – and I usually do – NBA players are paid, on the average, $7.6 million a year, a large reason a family of four must Airbnb its guest room if it wants to afford going to a game, and then when you get there, the marquee players might be sitting out due to load management?

HOW STUPID DO WE LOOK?

If professional sports franchises now utilize "dynamic pricing" – another dastardly newfangled term in which ticket costs are increased when a more attractive team is in town – then shouldn't they offer a rebate when buying seats to a game in which superstars sit out?

To ease the labor load on its overworked players, the NBA, of course, could shorten its season or stop scheduling back-to-back games, which is like asking Lincoln Continental to limit its line of cars and stop scheduling Matthew McConaughey to sell them. Money is as money does, and nobody in the NBA family – owners, players, TV partners – wants to grab a smaller piece of the American pie.

Anyhow, you think Wilt Chamberlain ever considered load management?

(Oh, maybe off the court. Then again, maybe not.)

In the 1961-62 NBA season, Chamberlain played all 82 games, averaging 48.5 minutes a game. Note: NBA games are 48 regulation minutes in duration. Including overtime, he missed a total of eight minutes all season – this occurred when he ran out to a pharmacy in Boston during the third quarter of a game to purchase a personal item.

The heavy load did not wear down Wilt: He averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds that season.

How about Gordie Howe? The NHL legend never took a load management day as a 52-year-old for the Hartford Whalers, playing in all 80 games in the 1979-80 season.

Let's talk theater for a moment. Actors get one day off a week, with added afternoon performances Wednesdays and Sundays; that's eight shows every seven days. Can you imagine Joel Embiid playing a 1 p.m. game for the Philadelphia 76ers, then coming back that night for an 8 p.m. tipoff?

You think Olivier took off matinees when he was playing Hamlet at the Old Vic?

"Due to load management, the role of Hamlet usually played by Laurence Olivier will be performed tonight by Spoons McCallahan."

By the way, what's the load management situation for Chinese workers who produce basketball shoes for the NBA via Nike? Do they get one day off a week to refresh mind and body, and keep them ready for the holiday-shopping-season rush?

Come to think of it, load management might've saved my first marriage.

Ask The Slouch

Q. The Cincinnati Bengals are third in the NFL in red-zone defense, yet they have the league's worst record. Does that mean the teams that have beaten them are all bad in the red zone? (Joe Zaccardo; Amsterdam, N.Y.)

A. No, it means statistics are stupid.

Q. If Myles Garrett had hit Mason Rudolph with the crown of the helmet, would he also have been assessed a 15-yard personal foul penalty? (Tom Schreck; Davenport, Wash.)

A. I have a call into Dean Blandino on this one.

Q. Am I to understand that you honestly believe the Houston Astros were stealing signs during your second marriage? (Mark Whitley; Indianapolis)

A. It actually cost me my second marriage, which was not affected by load management.

Q. Is it a quid pro quo impeachable offense if POTUS offers a Megan Rapinoe trading card to the Brazilian president in exchange for an old Pele trading card? (Bill Rote; Springfield, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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TO BE THE MAN, YOU GOTTA BEAT THE MAN!

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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