KEEPING IT RAHEEL

Raheel Ramzanali: Defending my honor - Respect the headband, Granato!

David Beckham rocked the headband look. Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Last week I was brutally attacked online via cyber bullying thanks to fellow SportsMap contributor John Granato. Like most of his cyberbullying, his attack was focused on my physical appearance and attire. Mr. Granato was not fond of my athletic chic attire that featured a slim soccer style headband to keep my hair out of my eyes while I worked out. The comments were hurtful and the pain was real, but I persevered because I know some of the greatest athletes ever have rocked the soccer headband. In an attempt to set the record straight and help bring John into the fashion forward year that is 2018, here are the best athletes ever to wear a skinny soccer style headband:

Mike Miller: If shooting 40% from three during your career isn’t enough, Miller is a two-time champ and also won the Rookie of the Year for the 2000-2001 season. The rest of the list will feature mostly soccer guys, so I wanted to start with American sports to highlight how greatness can be accomplished in the NBA with a skinny headband on. In addition to his shooting, Miller went out to redefine his career and gladly took a bench role for the 2005-2006 season Grizzlies and played his way into the 6th Man of the Year award. None of this happens if his hair was in his face thus making him the greatest American player to wear a soccer headband.

Luis Scola: There was a time in Houston where Scola was the crafty forward that fans couldn’t get enough of and most of that charm came from his headband. We’ve had our share of characters in Houston, but none of them ever flexed on us with the soccer style headband like Scola did so it was only right that we fell in love with the 2007-2008 All-Rookie team player. Scola went on to average almost 15 pts a game for the Rockets and was part of the 22-game winning streak. Hate the headband? You might as well hate Houston, John.

Sergio Ramos: In America we celebrate champions and greatness more than any other country. MJ vs LeBron: CHAMPIONSHIPS. Derek Jeter: CHAMPIONSHIPS. Tom Brady: CHAMPIONSHIPS. So it is only right that we celebrate one of the most decorated Spanish footballers in the history of the sports: Sergio Ramos. We might know him as the crewcut captain, but before the current iteration of Ramos, he was a notorious headband guy. He’s won a FIFA World Cup, multiple UEFA Euro titles, and four other Champions League titles with a relatively unknown club called Real Madrid. Defense wins championships and he is the greatest scorer from a defensive position.

David Beckham: Few soccer stars have ever captured the mainstream headlines like Becks did in the early 2000s when he was the most popular athlete in the world. Part of his appeal was his fashion forward style and haircuts. Becks did it all: faux-hawk, cornrows, and of course the headband look. He’s the most decorated celebrity athlete of our generation and it is only right I end this list with him. John, if you hate greatness then you hate the headband. Enough.  

 

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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