The Pallilog

Pallilo's view: Believe it or not, Texans will be in the thick of the wild card race with a win Monday

Tom Savage sucked less last week. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

A slightly shorter Pallilog entry this week because the tryptophan overdose is making me sleepy…

We know that the Texans as constituted are not a good football team. But Monday night at Baltimore they play a game with legitimate AFC playoff picture implications. That is testimony to the pitiful state of the AFC Wildcard race. The Texans are 4-6. The most likely result is they lose as seven point underdogs and that is that. But the Texans beating the 5-5 Ravens would be an upset not a miracle, and if they pull it off to get to 5-6 their chances at an AFC wild card berth would be as good as any team in the race besides the Titans.

You get one guess as to what team has scored the fewest offensive touchdowns in the NFL this season. Right! The Ravens. Have yourself an extra helping of leftovers. The Ravens have scored a paltry 16 offensive TDs in their 10 games. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco simply isn’t very good. Flacco parlayed one brilliant Super Bowl winning postseason into a six year 120 million dollar contract, and because the Ravens were salary cap-strapped last year they gave him a three year 66 mil extension. Since winning Super Bowl XLVII (47 for those who struggle with Roman numerals) the Ravens have one playoff win. This season Flacco has thrown nine touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Only the Bengals have gained fewer yards this season. Alas, the Texans’ defense comes off being the first NFL team to ever give up three touchdown passes in a game to Blaine Gabbert. With a leaky secondary and a lackluster pass rush the Texans just don’t seem capable of shutting down any offense these days. Their D almost has to play over its head Monday for the Texans to win. Because…

The Ravens have one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, only the Jaguars and Steelers have allowed fewer points. The Ravens have posted three shutouts. Yes those came over the early season punchless Bengals, the Dolphins’ clown show attack, and the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers. The Texans’ offense has much more in common with that hapless trio than it does with the Patriots, Eagles, or Saints. Credit Tom Savage for last week against the Cardinals for the first time looking like he at least belonged in the NFL. A Monday night relapse seems a decent bet.

The Ravens also have one of the best sets of special teams in the league. In the spirit of the holiday season let’s just say the Texans do not and leave it at that.

Tis the season...

 ...for college football coaches to get fired left and right. In the SEC alone Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi have openings, with Arkansas and Texas A&M probably joining the list by early next week. Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in Aggieland certainly hasn’t been terrible, but as certainly it hasn’t been very good and is certainly not trending up. The Aggies last won an SEC East game at Kyle Field in October. Of 2015! Unacceptable. A 10 million dollar payoff for Sumlin to not coach A&M the next two years is obviously doable. UCLA just fired Jim Mora and must pay him more than 12 mil to not coach the Bruins the next two years. Sumlin is among the names in the rumor mill for the UCLA job. The team against which his Ags blew a 44-10 lead in losing the season opener. If Chip Kelly opts for the UCLA job over Florida, the Bruins should consider themselves lucky. Well, if paying a college football coach not named Nick Saban six to 10 million dollars per year should ever have the “lucky” attached to it.

Feel the force Luc!

As the Rockets keep rolling through their early season schedule, quite an impressive number posted by Luc Mbah a Moute Wednesday night as they obliterated the Denver Nuggets. The Rockets won the game by 30. In the 26 minutes Mbah a Moute played, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by 57! 93-36 in Mbah a Moute’s time on the court. Extrapolated over a full 48 minute game the resulting wipeout would have been Rockets 171  Nuggets 66. Going back 20 years, Mbah a Moute’s personal +57 for the game is the highest put up by any NBA player.

Buzzer beaters

 1. The Rockets actually have a chance to hang with the Warriors in the race for regular season Best in the West.   2. Alabama-Auburn is the college football matchup I’d most like to attend some year.   3. Places with a zero percent chance of spotting me Friday:  Bronze-any mall  Silver-any mall  Gold-any mall

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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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