Week 6 Preview With Running Back James Butler

Unbeaten Roughnecks go on the road

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Under June Jones' run and shoot offense, running isn't a priority. However, we've seen it slowly start to pick up. Do you feel like you and the run game are finally hitting your stride?

"Yeah for sure. I feel like me and Andre have definitely taken advantage of our opportunities. Some teams are starting to drop into zone coverage so often they're giving us light boxes and me and Dre are just really allowed to take advantage of those boxes."

Defensively, the Guardians only allowed 1.8 yards per rush attempt after contact, the best in the XFL last week. Because of the good tackling on this team, do you feel like you can still exploit them using the run game?

"For sure. It's just going to come down to just block and tackle, basic football. It's going to come down to how well we execute on Saturday. "

What's your main focus going up against this Guardians defense? More pass blocking? More catching out of the backfield?

"Just executing what Coach June really has for us. I really like the game plan this week. Hopefully it involves more running back but you never really know. We always find out pretty much on game day what Coach June really gauges or just what the defense is giving us. We take our shots when we need to. I'm just excited for whatever my role may be and take advantage of every opportunity."

I've noticed you've gotten better at your vertical. You seem to be able to make it into the crowd with more ease. Any techniques we should know about?

"So I know a lot people think that I didn't have that high of a vertical my first attempt at the 'Houston Hop' but if you look closely at the film, I slipped going onto the concrete. Now I know when I get to the concrete I have to settle my feet."

Speaking of the crowd, Houston loves you. Does home field advantage play a role for you?

"Oh my gosh, so much. I don't think I can say this enough… I love playing in Houston. I really don't like playing anywhere else. It's been great. The fans are so into it and excited. I even had a fan with a 'jump here' and I saw a sign saying 'Butler was here' in the crowd. It's so cool to see how lively the fans are."

The Houston Roughnecks play the New York Guardians this Saturday at 1pm on ABC.

Things to know about the Guardians going into Week 6:

NY has won two games in a row.

The offense has turned the ball over only once in these two games.

Although this offense is still figuring themselves out, the QB switch to Luis Perez has proven to be a solid move. Perez had the highest QB rating in week 5.

The run game has also picked up. According to Andrew Brill from XFL.com, the Guardians offense gained more yards in the air and on the ground last week, totaling 373 yards, than they had in their four previous games.

Head Coach Kevin Gilbride has done a great job at managing the time clock and allowing his defense to have time off the field to rest.

The Roughnecks will need to start out strong and put up a steady lead early in the game. It's safe to say the concern for the defense this week isn't through the air, it's going to be more on their weak side, containing the run game.

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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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