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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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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