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Rockets problems are far bigger than Carmelo Anthony

The Rockets have bigger problems than this guy. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Everyone wants to blame Carmelo Anthony for all that ails Houston's favorite basketball team. It's the easy way out, the fastest way to point fingers. The average fan and all the outsiders can say the aquisition of Melo is the reason the team is below .500 and can't seem to score 100 points anymore.  The truth is, the problems are way deeper than that and are spread far and wide accross a team and roster that is light years away from the squad that should have been in the Finals a season ago.

By now you all have read and watched and listened to me vent about how important the losses of Jeff Bzdelk, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute were to this team. The defense has been a disaster through the first ten games and they can't get stops and can't slow down teams when they get on a run. Their two best players have been below their averages at best and have each spent time out of the lineup due to injury and suspenson. The team that was supposed to be able to score with anyone has found it difficult to score 100 points in a game lately. They can't make the most important shot in their offensive system, the 3-ball, and struggle to make free throws and even layups occasionally. Eric Gordon looks like a shell of his 6th man of the year self and has struggled to adjust to his new role with Melo on the roster. The list goes on and on. So, sure, the defense is bad, but there is so much more to this story and a majority of it starts and ends with the General Manager that loves to soak up the accolades but hates to be in the cross hairs of criticism.  

Daryl Morey is a General Manager that cannot stand pat, period. The same reason he has made a trade at the deadline virtually every year he's had a say so or control of an NBA roster, he can't seem to sit still and "run it back" with the same roster or close to the group that got you so far, so good last year. He was fine with Ariza and Luc leaving, which most observers agreed with, but where he screwed up was not replacing them with players that had similar skill sets and could play the same system the same way as their predecessors did.

He brought in a handful of guys that can't shoot the 3 ball and can't defend individually or collectively the way this team needs players to play in order to be effective. He made a trade to unload another mistake he made previously in Ryan Anderson and brought back a wasted lottery pick in Marquese Chriss that seems disinterested at best, as well as a back up point guard coming off major knee surgery in Brandon Knight.

The roster at first glance is exactly what I thought it would be, a bunch of dudes, just guys, a few folks past their prime and some more who were going to be asked to do things completely different from what they did a year ago, and of course, two of the best players in the game. there is no continuity, no chemestry and no chance of them playing the style and brand of basketball that they played all of last season as currently constructed. 

Morey brought in Anthony, a player that he had pursued for more than seven years, that he had to have and was convinced he was the missing piece to the Rockets championship puzzle. It was like a Wall Street wolf that was so obsessed with a stock that he buys it too high and way too late to have any ROI, but it doesn't matter because he finally got the prize he had coveted for so long! He was so adamant that Melo be in Houston that he ignored the negative past history that Mike D'Antoni had with him and basically told the coach that he would not only have Anthony on his roster again but that he better find a way to make it work.

That's not even taking into consideration the back story between the player and his first NBA coach, Jeff Bzdelik. Not exactly the kind of treatment you give a guy that won you more regular season games than you had every seen your franchise win in a regular season and the guy that turned your defense into a top six squad in the league as opposed to the bottom feeding "D" the team had played previous to his arrival. 

If the GM really believed in the squad that he constructed for this season and thought it was talented enough to win a title, then why was he in such hot pursuit of Jimmy Butler? Why was it rumored that he was willing to give up four first round draft picks and a couple of major rotational players for just one guy?

Is that the sign of a guy that liked what he saw in the first month of the season or a guy that knew he had plenty of work to do to try and re-construct a roster that wasn't going to cut it in a loaded and talented Western Conference, let alone compete for a title? Now that Butler has been traded to Philadelphia, that dream is over and the heat that has been on the H-town GM is getting to a boiling point. There aren't too many all-stars out there to be had and there aren't too many GM's in the West in a hurry to help out Morey. The Anthony situation is up in the air, but the rest of the roster should be too. Regardless of what happens with Melo, Morey had better be on the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, trying to add better pieces to this puzzle and a supporting cast that can make shots, execute a system and get stops better than the roster he has right now. There's still time to right the ship and get back on course with sights set on a return engagement with the Warriors, but time is of the essence and there is no quick fix in sight.

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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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