A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans had no answers for the Vikings

O'Brien was outcoached yet again. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Texans fell to 0-4 with a 31-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The loss can be largely pinned on Bill O'Brien. If there was an award for WTF decisions, O'Brien would be the winner by a couple country miles. He's been making them his whole tenure as Texans coach. Sure, the game came down to the final possession and was pending a review of an amazing almost catch by Will Fuller (as well as a two-point conversion if it stood), but O'Brien was the impetus behind much of went wrong.

For starters, it was revealed that O'Brien would be taking over play calling duties from offensive coordinator Tim Kelly. Citing the struggles of the offense in the first three games, O'Brien chose to open his burger-chan play calling menu (sponsored by Culture Map) and did nothing too different from what we saw in the first three games.

The offense continued to look disjointed. They would look good getting off quick throws, then would bog down trying to run or go for long developing routes. I thought the empty backfield "Run N Gun" formation was effective. It spread the Vikings' already thin defense and allowed Deshaun Watson to throw the ball to wherever he saw a mismatch. Going up-tempo keeps the opposing defense off balance. They can't sub and it makes it tougher to adjust or catch a breath. This also helped utilize the speed at receiver the Texans have. Alas, O'Brien went away from it.

Right before halftime, they had an opportunity to score a touchdown and cut the lead to seven. Instead, they had to settle for another field goal. The fourth highest paid kicker in the league kicked three field goals in all. The sad part is that the last two were from 28 and 25 yards respectively. Translation: the offense stalled in the deep inside the red zone. Who's at fault for that? The easy answer would be O'Brien. One could blame Watson for not making the proper reads or throws. Ultimately, O'Brien is the head coach and called the plays.

There are some positives. It seems as if O'Brien has gotten better with the two-minute drill. Despite not being able to punch it in at the end of the first half, he called the right plays. He even put them in position to potentially tie the game at the end of regulation. That's where execution comes into play. The up-tempo style works best on offense. Sure it may put the defense at a disadvantage when it doesn't yield long drives, but the defense isn't good anyway so give the offense all the chances you can. I also like the commitment to the run. Even though it may not produce as many yards, you have to keep the threat alive. The threat of a run game feeds play action pass, sucks the defense closer to the line of scrimmage, and opens up passing lanes.

O'Brien definitely has some work to do. At 0-4, this team has almost no shot at making the playoffs. Given that there's an extra playoff team starting this year and there's still 75% of the season left to play, there's hope. Not much hope, but it's there. It's akin to a firefly flying solo in the woods. It's lighting a path, but a very dim light on a dark path. Here's to hoping that light gets brighter.

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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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