Make The Astrodome Great Again

Patrick Creighton; Embrace the Astrodome project, it’s your only hope

Deal with it. The Astrodome project is good for the city.

Tuesday the Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to proceed with a $105M renovation of the Astrodome.  The project will raise the floor of the dome by 30 feet, creating 1400 underground parking spaces.  It will also create over 500,000 square feet of usable, rentable space to generate revenue.

The space, which is essentially eight acres of wide open weatherproof space, could be used by dozens of festivals and events (the Offshore Technology Conference had been previously given as an example).  

This is finally the step forward that the county has needed to take with the Astrodome for over a decade, and should be a happy day in the county to discuss the possibilities the building presents.

However, there are those who are against the plan for a variety of reasons.  Those complaints are short sighted, misinformed, or just flat out factually inaccurate.  Here’s why:

Complaint A: The Astrodome is an eyesore.  It should be torn down.

Whether or not you appreciate the aesthetics of the building, it cannot be torn down.  In January 2017, the Texas Historical Commission designated the Astrodome an historical landmark.  As the legal custodian of the Antiquities Code, the Texas Historical Commission has jurisdiction on the building now, and any plans for the dome must now be approved by the THC.

Tearing the building down is not a legal option.  

Complaint B: It’s a waste of money.

The Astrodome currently costs approximately $177,000 per year to ‘maintain’.  The building has been deemed unsuitable for use since 2009, therefore that $177,000 is basically being flushed down a toilet.  That is what is known as a waste of money.

The current project is an investment into renovation and future earnings.  You have to spend money to make money, right?  Well, you especially have to spend it when the building has been neglected for close to two decades.   It’s a choice of making it suitable for business to make money or leaving it there to rot and throwing away that maintenance money.  At least this alternative gives you something positive.

Complaint C: It should have went to a vote.

The reason past attempts to renovate the Astrodome went to public vote was because new debt was to be incurred in the form of bonds to finance the project.  Having the county take on new debt requires a referendum.

In this case, no new debt is being accrued.  There is no bond being used to finance the project.  There is no new tax being created to finance the project, and there is no tax increase being enacted to finance the project.  Hence, no vote was needed.

These are funds the county already has. $35M of which comes from the general fund (property taxes), $35M comes from the Hotel Occupancy Tax (thanks to all our visitors!) and the final $35M will come from the proceeds generated by the Astrodome’s rentals once it’s operational.

Complaint D: Voters already voted for it to be demolished.

This is factually inaccurate.  Voters voted down a proposal for a $217M bond to renovate the Astrodome in 2013.  There was no proposal on a ballot to tear it down.

At the time, some civic leaders feared that tearing it down would be the most likely outcome following the failure to pass the bond initiative, but no part of that measure was tearing the building down an option that was voted on, nor was it something that was committed to by the Commissioners Court.

Subsequently, the Commissioners Court came up with an alternative plan to tearing down the building which would make the building profitable.  

Also, as previously explained in Complaint A, tearing it down is no longer a legal option.

Complaint E: The money should be used for issues related to Hurricane Harvey

This is the ‘low hanging fruit’ complaint.  It’s easy to just throw Harvey into the mix on anything to draw up an emotional response, but to be completely honest, the idea that this money being spent on the Astrodome somehow is taking away money from Harvey victims, or from infrastructure repair and improvement, is not only factually inaccurate but it’s a shameful misleading of the public.

Tuesday, Gov. Abbott announced $1 billion in new funding from FEMA for Hurricane Harvey related issues, not limited to buying out flood prone homes, building new seawalls and jetties, restoring sand dunes, channeling waterways, new storm surge protection projects and more.  $500M of that money is immediately available, and the rest will be made available on the one year anniversary of the storm in last August.  The funds will be used from Rockport to Beaumont.

The unreleased funds are to be issued to those municipalities that submit requests for funding for their projects.

There is an entirely different, and much larger, piggy bank for Harvey recovery.  One does not preclude or impede the other.

Also, keep in mind, last week Congress passed a bill allocating $90 billion in relief for areas hit hard by Hurricanes (Texas and Florida).  There will be more Federal Aid making its way to Houston as well.

Considering that of the $105 million allocated for the Astrodome project, only $35 million would even be legally eligible for a relief earmark, as the Hotel Occupancy Tax cannot legally be used for Hurricane relief, and the Astrodome revenues do not yet exist.  That argument breaks down to “$35 million wasn’t allocated for Harvey related issues but $46 billion was, so, the government is doing it all wrong.”  $46 billion vs $35 million.  I’m not even going to address that with my usual high level of snark because I clearly don’t have to.

It should be pretty clear by now that this is the best possible way to move forward with the Astrodome, so lose the negativity, stop the hate, and embrace progress.  Something great could be on the horizon.  Isn’t that better than status quo?

#MAGA.  Make Astrodome Great Again!

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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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