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Now that he is officially hired, how will Dusty Baker work out for the Astros?

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Jim Crane going with Dusty Baker as the Astros' manager for 2020 drew out many Dusty Dissers. If you are one of them I'll call you Francis. As in Sergeant Hulka in Stripes: "Lighten up Francis."

Dusty Baker is a solid hire. Or, given his legal name is Johnny B. Baker, a good hire. Yes he's 70 years old. But Dusty won't be trying to score from second base on singles, or last six innings as a starting pitcher. He last managed in 2017. He's been out two seasons. Two. Not 12. The Astros become Baker's fifth different franchise to manage. He took the prior four to the postseason a total of nine times over 22 seasons, including the Giants to the 2002 World Series.

He's never been a master strategist. That's not critical (though can matter more in the postseason). Baker's handling of pitchers has fairly been called into question. Well, that is mitigated with Brent Strom remaining on staff as the pitching coach.

Where Baker has always impressed is as a leader of men. As I put it last week, I've always thought Dusty's teams took on his personality of upbeat and intense. The Astros have great talent. They're going to have to deal with season long fallout and derision from the cheating scandal. Baker has the temperament to helm the ship through some stormy seas. When with the Giants he dealt with Barry Bonds. When with the Cubs he dealt with Sammy Sosa and the aftermath of "the Bartman game."

Baker only gets a one season guarantee, with the Astros holding an option for 2021. I wonder how interesting A.J. Hinch finds that. The 2020 vision is clear: if the Astros don't have a highly successful 2020, Dusty Baker is a one and done manager. Borrowing from Bill Parcells, Baker isn't buying green bananas. His hire is a short play. If hugely successful and hence a longer play, win-win.

Texans disconnected

I think we all get why so many people are upset, or furious, or laughing, at Cal McNair cementing Bill O'Brien's power as Texans' Head Coach and General Manager. Over O'Brien's six seasons the other three AFC South teams have reached the AFC Championship Game. The Texans, not close. With the exception of Bill Belichick (and maybe Andy Reid and Jon Gruden) O'Brien is now the most powerful Head Coach in the NFL.

In McNair's press release statement celebrating the formalization of O'Brien's enhanced job title he claimed the 2019 Texans had "many thrilling victories at home." That's as ridiculous as the power Emperor O has amassed, and frankly feeds right into the belief of many that the franchise's quality standards fall lamely short. The playoff rally against the Bills and finally beating the Patriots again qualify as thrilling. The Texans other "thrilling home victories" came over the Falcons (finished 7-9), Jaguars (6-10), Raiders (7-9) and Colts (7-9). Cal omitted an adjective characterizing the home losses to the Panthers (5-11) and Broncos (7-9). And one for the third humiliating postseason loss of the O'Brien era.

At least one of the existing 32 franchises (almost certainly several of them) will not next win a Super Bowl until SB LXXXV at the very earliest. What percentage chance do you give Houston of snapping its 0 for all-time status with regard to reaching The Big Game?

Oh yes, the Super Bowl

Until kickoff Sunday the Chiefs last played in a Super Bowl 50 seasons ago (their lone SB win). The 49ers last reached it with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. Seems like 20 years ago. It was seven years ago. A win gives the Niners a sixth Lombardi Trophy and ties them with the Patriots and Steelers for most ever. The Chiefs favored by a point or point and a half makes this just the fourth Super Bowl with a point spread lower than two. I lean Niners. They have the pass rush to disrupt Patrick Mahomes much more so than the feeble Texans' rush and the Titans' mediocre rush. For the Niners' sake they better disrupt. No secondary has enough good cover people to handle the Chiefs' weaponry.

Are the Rockets still here?


The general lack of interest in the Rockets is alarming, though not as much so as James Harden's shooting coma over his last 10 games. The Rockets' season to date certainly isn't bad at 29-18, but they just aren't that good this season. They enter the weekend tied for the 11th best record in the NBA. Meh. Tied with the Mavericks, against whom the Rockets catch a huge break Friday night with the absence of 20 year old superstar Luka Doncic thanks to a sprained ankle.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. More potent 1-2 punch: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce during the Super Bowl, or Jennifer Lopez and Shakira during halftime of the Super Bowl? 2.Most important things in life, as reminded by Kobe Bryant's tragic death coupled with the loss of eight other lives: the people in your life, and health. 3. Best Baker songs: Bronze-Michelle Pfeiffer "Makin' Whoopee" in The Fabulous Baker Boys Silver-Gerry Rafferty "Baker Street" Gold-Anita Baker "Sweet Love"


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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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