Saints 34, Colts 7

Saints vs Colts: Good, bad and ugly

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The Saints were coming off a tough loss and managed to bounce back nicely with a blowout win over the Colts. Here are my observations:

The Good

-The Drew Brees/Sean Payton pairing is arguably the second best quarterback/head coach tandem in this era of football. The synergy they have is unreal. Outside Tom Brady/Bill Belichick, you can't name a better duo. Props to Brees for breaking the all time passing touchdown record on another big stage. Brees went 29/30 (96.7% is a single game record) for 307 yards and four touchdowns.

-Michael Thomas is not human. He's Brees' favorite target. Teams know he's going to get targeted at least 10 times a game or more. He doesn't have take the top off the defense speed. Yet, he still gets wide open! Thomas had 12 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. He's now 11 catches away from breaking the catches in a season record.

-Demario Davis is the playmaker the Saints have severely lacked at linebacker. He blitzes, covers, and stuffs the run better than any line backer this team has had since the Dome Patrol. I'm not saying he's a future Hall of Famer, but he's definitely making the team's Ring of Honor. Davis pressured Jacoby Brissett, as well as made key stops in both the run and pass game.

The Bad

-There was a play in the 1st quarter in which Brees got up from the turf and had to adjust his jersey, pads, and mouthpiece. That's something no saints fan wants to see, much less something Brees wants to feel. Keeping him clean is a high priority.

-43 seconds into the 2nd quarter, Brees threw his first and only incompletion of the first half short right to Latavius Murray. Bum! He couldn't complete 100% of his passes tonight because he missed that throw to Murray. What a joke! This bum deserves to lose his job!

-The defense played very well...until they put more backups in. That's when Saquan Hampton gave up an unnecessary pass interference call that set up the Colts' one touchdown with a shade over four minutes left in the game. So much for serving donuts.

The Ugly

-When right guard Larry Warford went down, so did the hearts of many Saints fans. He's been a lynchpin of that offensive line unit since he signed as a free agent from the Lions a couple years ago. His leg got rolled up on from friendly fire. Looks like he should be okay.

-An offensive pass interference call wiped out Brees' would be record breaking touchdown pass at the end of the first half. Tre'Quan Smith was flagged when the refs assumed his slight hand push gained him a significant enough advantage that the touchdown shouldn't count. I've seen way worse not be called or reviewed. At minimum, the booth should've upheld the touchdown. But then again this is like asking criminals to judge other criminals.

-With Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport out for the season, it's time for the next man up mentality. While those guys will be missed, the Saints can't let up. They were fortunate to get by the Colts and their power run game without incident because they jumped out to a big lead. The Titans next week will present a different challenge in stopping the run, so will the Panthers if they decide to play for pride in week 17, as will every NFC playoff team outside possibly the Packers.

There's just something magical about the Saints and Monday Night Football in the Brees/Payton era, especially when Brees has a shot at breaking some sort of record. The Saints took full advantage of the opening created by the 49ers inexplicably losing to the Falcons by beating the Colts. The NFC race for the #1 seed is now wide open and up for grabs over the last couple weeks of the regular season. Maybe those blown coverages and questionable calls to go for two in the 49ers loss won't come back to haunt the Saints afterall. Or maybe they will. Only time will tell. There's still two more games left to play for everybody and anything can happen.

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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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