The Pallilog

No, Cooks is no Hopkins, but on its own, Texans make a decent trade

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Caveat ahead of the rest of this column: So much is trivial relative to the life and death and other critical Covid-19 pandemic issues, but sports matter as passions of so many, as multi-billion dollar businesses with impact on many other businesses, and beyond. All things in context.

The Texans acquisition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams doesn't undo the dim-bulbness of the DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals deal, but Bill O'Brien made a reasonable though hardly risk-free deal in getting Cooks. It nets out that basically Emperor O dealt Hopkins for Cooks, running back David Johnson, and a 17 slot move up in the 2nd round. That's not a good exchange for the Texans, but not as bad as the Hopkins trade by itself.

It is amusing that Cooks is in the middle of a five year 81 million dollar contract, the exact length and dollar figures of the Hopkins contract O'Brien chose to unload. Cooks makes eight million in 2020, then has zero remaining guaranteed dollars left over the remaining three seasons of his contract. If kept on with that deal Cooks would average 13 mil per season covering 2021 through 2023. Hopkins averages about 13.3 mil over the three remaining seasons on his deal.

The Texans give up the lower of their two second round picks for Cooks, so they still have the 40th overall selection in the draft two weeks from now. With Cooks, Randall Cobb, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills the Texans have their primary wide receiving corps settled, so their top draft pick can now be earmarked toward a pass rusher, a guard, or the always popular "best player available."

What does it say more about a player who is traded three times in just over three years: bad that teams feel like they're better off moving the guy, or good that there's been consistent interest in acquiring his services? Cooks was a Saints first round pick in 2014. After the 2016 season they dealt him to the Patriots, after just one season in New England Cooks was dealt to the Rams, and now the Rams deal him here. Cooks comes to the Texans off of his lowest reception total season and lowest touchdown catch season of his career. Oh, he's had at least five concussions during his six seasons in the NFL. However, before missing two games last season to a concussion Cooks played all 16 regular season games four consecutive seasons. In the last three of those he topped 1000 yards in receptions and averaged at least 15 yards per catch.


Had a little fun with this on the radio show Thursday: uniform number 34 for Houston is the overwhelming iconic pro sports number (Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell, Nolan Ryan). What's the second greatest number in Houston sports annals? What cities can even remotely rival Houston 34 with numbers of their own? Three athletes, three different sports. Thoughts below in Buzzer Beaters.

Forbes magazine this week released its annual valuation estimates for the 30 Major League Baseball franchises. It ranks the Astros 11th at 1.85 billion dollars. That's right about triple what Jim Crane and his partners paid for it less than nine years ago. The Yankees top the list as always, at five billion. Four other teams are worth more than a billion more than the Astros: Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, and Giants. Forbes's call on the most profitable franchise for 2019? The Astros, at 99 million. Crane was denied in his prior effort to buy the Texas Rangers. Before Covid-19 this was to have been an Astros at Rangers weekend, the Astros' first visit to the Rangers' new retractable roof ballpark.

So, ESPN is televising a two hour Horse competition among four NBA players, two former NBA players, and two WNBA players. Sunday's quarterfinals will be a two hour broadcast. Two hours for four games of Horse? Four games of Hippopotamus shouldn't take two hours! Four games of Parastratiosphecomvia stratiophecomyioides? Maybe. That's the longest named animal species. A type of fly. I can't see Horse holding my attention much longer (which is not long at all) than the NBA 2K video tournament ESPN is showing. Tough being the Worldwide Leader In Sports without any real sports.

Buzzer Beaters: 1. Modern Family had its series finale this week. Top 10 sitcom of all-time. Maybe top 5. 2. Number 2 Houston uniform number is number 1. Warren Moon, Tracy McGrady, Carlos Correa 3. Best other city sports numbers: Bronze-Atlanta 21 (Warren Spahn, Dominique Wilkins, Deion Sanders) Silver- Chicago 23 (Michael Jordan, Ryne Sandberg, Devin Hester) Gold-Los Angeles 32 (Magic Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Marcus Allen)

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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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