ROCKETS 119, NETS 111

Rockets end losing streak with win over Nets

Chris Paul willed the Rockets to a win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Desperate was not an adjective anyone would have expected to use to describe the Rockets this early in the season. Certainly no one expected a Brooklyn Nets matchup in early November to be considered both a toss-up and a “must-win,” simultaneously, yet here we are. With their backs against the wall yet again, Houston swung back Friday night and finally notched their second win of the season, breaking a four-game losing streak with a 119-111 victory.

The easiest way to describe the Rockets’ performance is to equate it to an old lighter. The first two quarters provided flickers of last season's brilliance, but nothing lasted. The third quarter, however, was where Houston found its ignition point. It was then that the Rockets began to finally resemble what can only be assumed was the actual team general manager Daryl Morey was attempting to assemble this offseason.

The win couldn't come at a better time, as casual onlookers view a 1-5 team and assume the worst. Friday night's victory was proof that Houston's morbid start is the result of being a victim of inopportune circumstances, and nothing more.

Last Friday's blowout loss to the Clippers came with at least five contributors shelved due to injury. Tuesday returned front court help with Marquese Chriss. Friday saw the return of forward James Ennis III. While Chriss remains an experiment at best, Ennis contributed 19 minutes of rotation time which has proven in the past two weeks to be an invaluable commodity. Nevermind his two points. He helped keep the Rockets fresh finally.

It cannot be overstated how desperately Houston needed guard Eric Gordon to break out of his six-game shooting slump, and Game 7 of the season saw him do just that. While only connecting on 2-of-8 from three, Gordon still managed to convert 6-of-14 for 21 points and served as a key contributor in the Rockets’ win.

Carmelo Anthony was not signed to carry the Rockets. Anthony was brought in because of his potential to swing close games, a la Ryan Anderson. Tonight proved to be one such situation, and Anthony delivered with a season-high 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-9 from three.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each seemed to return to form as well, as Paul willed the Rockets to the win behind a 32 point, 11 assist virtuoso performance. Capela simultaneously erupted for 22 points and 13 rebounds.

The collective offensive awakening was only part of the equation, as Houston's initially porous defense suddenly clam-shelled, fueling a Rockets run to retake the lead to begin the second half. The Nets led by 14 late in the second, shooting 71.9 percent until the Rockets took a timeout and regrouped. From that point on, the Nets managed 35.8 percent from the field as Houston stormed back to claim the lead.

The fact that Houston is celebrating a Brooklyn Nets victory is an indictment to the state of the season currently, but sunnier days lie ahead. The Rockets expect to welcome back all-world guard James Harden tonight against the lowly Chicago Bulls in a - finally - very winnable contest. Houston now finds itself with a chance to not only notch a second-straight victory, but begin to build chemistry with a nearly healthy squad. The opportunity couldn't come a moment too soon, as the Rockets will have to jel on the fly while they play catch-up in what's shaping up to be a formidable Western Conference.

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome