USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter made the rounds

Soccer really does matter - and it could matter even more

U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter. Getty Images.

We had the USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter on the show Wednesday morning. What a great guy and get for the show. The U.S. team will be here taking on Chile on March 26. Hopefully it will go better than the last time they were here.

Houston's soccer ambassador Glenn Davis opened a press conference later that day by saying that it was an historic morning. Never before had a Houston sports radio show done three straight segments on soccer. Glenn called me that night and was gushing about how great it was. There may not be a nicer guy in the sports world.

My soccer knowledge is extremely limited and you have to be very careful around soccer guy (not Glenn Davis. He's too nice to be a jerk. I'm talking about soccer snob) because he will light you up if you take the tiniest misstep. Do not call it a field or a game or ever say zero. Soccer snob hates zero. Zero must have done something ugly to his sister because he doesn't want anything to do with zero.

My knowledge of the game is basically 5-year old soccer. My son JT played it then but the other parents asked us to stop bringing him because all he did was run around and knock over the little girls. That is not an exaggeration.

He did grow up on the video game FIFA though and became a huge Cristiano Ronaldo fan so we watched a bunch of Real Madrid games. We also get into the World Cup every four years.

I've been to a few Dynamo games. BBVA is one of our best stadiums. Their first manager Dominic Kinnear was a great guy. He was on the show a bunch and liked to give us the business. Then we had their next manager Owen Coyle on on a weekly basis. His Irish accent was so thick that I couldn't understand anything he said. Our producer Del wrote the questions for me. I'd ask a question then wait until he finished and ask the next. He could have threatened to kill me for all I knew. Couldn't understand a word.

I went and watched our national team play Argentina at NRG a few years ago. That wasn't very exciting. We didn't stand a chance. The difference between the two programs was obvious even to a soccer moron like me. It really wasn't all that surprising that the U.S. didn't qualify for the World Cup. We weren't very good.

And here we are: a new coach and a couple of good young players. Will it make a difference? I hope so. Every four years when the World Cup comes around I hear how soccer is going to take over the States; how baseball and basketball need to step it up or soccer will pass them in popularity. And then the World Cup ends and we're back to watching baseball and basketball again and soccer takes its place in the background.

That the MLS is more or less a second division for soccer doesn't help. We are a major league country. Don't ask us to watch minor league anything. We won't.

We did watch the Dynamo when they were winning titles but they haven't been doing that for a while. They sure could use a star or two. They haven't really had anyone recognizable since Brian Ching. They had a full house for the Tigres game this week. Unfortunately they were mostly all Tigres fans. That's got to change.

A really good U.S. team can change that. We're waiting for soccer to explode here but the only way that's going to happen is if our team makes a deep run in the World Cup. Give us something to cheer about and we will. Soccer guy might not like us all jumping on the bandwagon but I know Glenn Davis won't mind. He works tirelessly to promote the sport he loves in a city that just hasn't been all that receptive lately.

We will be though if Gregg Berhalter just gives us a reason to.

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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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