The good, bad and ugly

NFL Week 13 report: Garappolo era begins in San Francisco; Saints keep marching

Jimmy Garappolo is off to a good start. San Francisco 49ers

Another exciting week of football in the books! Week thirteen saw some of some endings, beginnings, and continuations of eras. The action was as expected with late season NFL football.

The Good

-The Jimmy Garoppolo era is under way in San Francisco as they beat the Chicago Bears 15-14 Sunday. The 49ers ended the swirling questions about when and where the former New England Patriots backup quarterback would end up by trading for him Oct. 30. Speculation out of 49ers camp was that Garoppolo wasn’t going to start this year. That changed Sunday when he not only made his first start as a 49er, but also collected his first win.

-The New Orleans Saints picked up their ninth win on the season beating the Carolina Panthers 31-21 Sunday. Once again, their rookie running back Alvin Kamara was a driving force totaling 60 yards and two touchdowns rushing, as well as 66 yards receiving. He once transferred from the University of Alabama because of a crowded backfield. Now he’s an emerging star on an NFC playoff bound team.

-Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson made the league MVP debate a bit more crowded Sunday night as he outdueled Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in a 24-10 victory. Wilson is now directly responsible for 29 of the Seahawks’ 30 touchdowns on the season. That stat alone puts him squarely in the driver’s seat in my opinion.

The Bad

-The Buffalo Bills were beaten by the New England Patriots 23-3 Sunday. Despite their rollercoaster of a season, they came into Sunday’s game still within striking distance of a playoff spot. The loss puts them on the outside looking in of a murky AFC playoff picture. But perhaps most damaging to their chances was the injury to starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor has a bruised patellar tendon and is listed as day to day. For an athletic quarterback like Taylor, a knee injury like this can limit his mobility, as well as take some heat of his passes because he won’t be able to plant and throw comfortably. The last thing Bills fans want is another Nathan Peterman performance.

-The Kansas City Chiefs fell to the New York Jets 38-31 Sunday. The once promising Chiefs season is now in jeopardy as they’re hanging on like that loose tooth your kid refuses to have plucked from his/her mouth despite being able to twist it around. While they are still leading the awful AFC West by an eyelash, they’re closer to imploding. Fans are calling for the Patrick Mahomes era to start and the team is showing signs of frustration on the field as their play declines. Losing six of your last seven after seeming like the team to beat will do that.

-The Factory of Sadness continued in Cleveland as the perpetually woeful Browns lost…again. After going down 19-10 to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Browns are now 0-12 on the season. They have pieces in place to build a la the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, but will ownership give the front office a chance to do so? They’re headed for another No. 1 overall pick and own the 4-8 Houston Texans’ first and second rounders. Couple that with what they’ve drafted recently and things could be finally looking up for the Dawg Pound.

The Ugly

-New York Giants now former head coach Ben McAdoo decided this was the week to bench quarterback Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith under the guise that the team needed to see what it has. He also said this was about the future and what’s best for the team. Manning’s consecutive starts streak ended at 210 Sunday while the team lost 24-17 to the Oakland Raiders. McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were both fired Monday. I imagine handling this situation poorly, and bumbling the building of a proud franchise led to their exits.

- Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Ryan Shazier was carted off the field Monday night after suffering a spinal contusion. The injury came as he hit Cincinnati Bengal wide receiver Josh Malone. Shazier moved his arms after the hit, but didn’t appear to have moved his legs. He was taken to the hospital for observations where he will stay.

-The Washington Redskins turned the ball over four times in a 38-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw two interceptions and fumbled twice (one was recovered by running back Samaje Perine). For a guy who’s been banging the table for a long-term contract, he played more like the fourth round draft pick he was coming out of Michigan State as opposed to the guy who was worth a second franchise tag.

Around the league: Perhaps one of the most exciting plays of the weekend came when Bears rookie Tarik Cohen returned a punt 347 yards for a touchdown. So maybe it’ll go down as 61 yards officially, but with all the running around he did, it seemed closer to 347…Jets head coach Todd Bowles deserves some coach of the year consideration. Why you ask? The front office stripped the team down and the team was expected to compete for the first overall draft pick. Instead, they’re the 5-7 team no one wants to see down the stretch..Sure the Garoppolo era is underway in San Francisco, but it took five field goals to beat the Bears...Sure the Seahawks won, but Wentz still torched their defense for 348 yards.. Sure Cousins had a bad game against the Cowboys, but he’s still completing 66% of his passes for 3,289 yards with 21 touchdowns and 8 interceptions on the season. I say all that to say this: no matter how bad (or good) a situation looks in the NFL, there’s always the other side of the pillow.  

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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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