Roughnecks 37, Wildcats 17

Roughnecks vs Wildcats: Good, bad and ugly

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The Houston Roughnecks kicked off their inaugural season with an impressive victory over the Los Angeles Wildcats in front of nearly 18,000 spectators at TDECU Stadium. The game had a party like atmosphere as the city of Houston welcomed its newest professional sports team to town. There was a lot of scoring, big hits, and even a little defense for the first ever XFL game in Houston.

The Good

- The Roughnecks didn't waste any time getting on the board to start the game. It took only three plays for Quarterback P.J. Walker to find an open Cam Phillips for a 50- yard touchdown. Walker was by far the standout player of the game. He finished his Roughnecks debut with 272 yards passing and 4 touchdown passes on 23-for39 passing attempts. He was named the starter over former Raiders Quarterback and 4th round pick Conner Cook on Thursday, and it looks as though June Jones and his coaching staff made the right call. Walker worked well under constant pressure and was able to throw the ball deep down the field on multiple occasions. Walker looked as though he had a little bit of Deshaun Watson in him by eluding would be tacklers and even flashing the H-town sign after picking up a first down.

- It was a back and forth game offensively between both the Roughnecks and the Wildcats with neither team playing particularly well on defense. That is until the second half started, for Houston's defense didn't allow the Wildcats to score at all after halftime. The Roughnecks did a great job getting after both L.A. quarterbacks with 16 QB hits and 5 sacks as a team. In a league that predicates itself as a high octane offensive league, it's good to know that the Roughnecks have a defense that can step up when needed. The defense had two key turnovers in the second half that killed all momentum for the Wildcats. One was an interception by Deatrick Nichols with 12 minutes left to go in the 4th quarter, and the other was fumble and recovery by DeMarquis Gates. This essentially sealed the game for the Roughnecks.

- June Jones is back in Texas and looks as if he never lost his offensive touch. Jones coached at the University of Hawaii and SMU before taking his coaching talents to the CFL to coach the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This season, he left his position with Hamilton to become the head coach for the Roughnecks. Everywhere he has gone, he has instilled an offensive game plan known as the Run N Shoot, now known as an up tempo offensive spread. Walker and the Roughneck's offense ran this scheme amazingly. With Jones at the helm and Walker as the go-to quarterback, who knows how good this offense can be going forward.

The Bad

- The Roughnecks' running backs combined for only 12 rushing attempts and 50 yards rushing for the entire game. Although one of those attempts was a touchdown to James Butler for a 4 yard score, the offense was too heavily reliant on passing plays to keep the ball moving. It may have worked this time, but Jones should implement his running backs more going forward. Butler performed admirably in his limited offensive role and given some time, Butler could be the next breakout star for this Roughnecks' offense.

- Speaking of potential breakout stars, Sammy Coates didn't have that good of a game to start the season. The former Houston Texan came into training camp as the number one receiver and was essentially shut down by the Wildcats' secondary. He finished the game with only 2 catches on 9 attempts for only 26 yards. He was heavily covered on almost every play which led to other receivers such as Lewis Kahlil, Cam Phillips and Sam Mobley to get the lion's share of catches for the game. As pedestrian as his performance was, this game should be an outlier for Coates instead of the norm for the young talented receiver. Coates will have more opportunities to show he is a number one receiver as the season progresses.

- There wasn't much else that could fit in the "bad" category for the Roughnecks. Sure the defense was mediocre until halftime but I would just be nitpicking if I said that. Instead I'll use the final bad point to talk about the Wildcats' coaching errors. Los Angeles looked great going into halftime. They were answering everything the Roughnecks threw at them and were down only 17-18 just before the end of the second quarter. All the Wildcats had to do was kick a 29-yard field goal to take the lead into halftime, but Head Coach Winston Moss' poor time management lead to the clock running out and the Wildcats never saw a lead again. This was a huge missed opportunity that could have given the Wildcats momentum going into halftime.

The Ugly

- The PAT rules in the XFL are bizarre and may need some time to get accustomed to. Under XFL rules, teams don't kick extra points anymore. Instead they must try to score one, two or three points attempts from two, five, or ten yards out. The Roughnecks were 0-3 on PAT's in the first half but finished 2-5 on total point after attempts. Most likely, these points after attempts will improve as the season progresses and fans will get used to the idea of no more kicking attempts for points after touchdown scores.

- In what can only be described as unexpected, Wide Receiver Lewis Kahlil lined up near the Wildcats' red zone early in the game and the camera caught him losing his lunch on the field. This isn't the first time someone has gotten sick in the middle of the game and certainly will not be the last time. It was an ugly sight to see, but the Roughnecks' offense started playing well after this "fumble" if you will. Maybe it was a good luck charm for a Roughnecks victory.

- Those that didn't attend the game tuned to FOX to see the inaugural XFL game in Houston. After the Roughnecks scored their initial touchdown you could hear Veteran Sportscaster Curt Menefee, who was calling play-by-play for FOX, yell "Touchdown Renegades." Oops. The Renegades are the XFL team in Dallas. It's like if the Texans scored and the commentator yelled touchdown Cowboys! Yikes, a rough start for the Roughnecks already. All jokes aside, this blunder didn't take away from the television viewing experience Roughnecks' fans had watching their team crush the Wildcats.

With Week 1 in the books, the Roughnecks look ahead to the St. Louis BattleHawks Sunday February 16th as they look to remain undefeated. If they continue to play as well as they did Saturday night, the Roughnecks could be a potential favorite in every game going forward.

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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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