Every-Thing Sports

Texans can build a legacy over the next three games

Deshaun Watson had an up and down day. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans have been around for 18 years. They've made playoff appearances and even have a couple playoff wins. Never in their history, with the exception of a couple years in the Matt Schaub era, have they been truly thought of as a serious contender. They've built a reputation as a team that's more like the bridesmaid who never gets married, but is always asked to be in another friend's wedding. Close, but never the center of attention. Always on the outside looking in. Smelling the cookies, but can't afford to buy them. You get the point.

They have a chance to change that narrative this season. More specifically, they can set themselves up nicely over the next three weeks. With games against at the Ravens and MVP candidate Lamar Jackson in a noon time must-see-tv matchup, Thursday Night Football against division rival Colts, followed by Sunday night Football against perpetual big brother in the Patriots. All three games will be paid close attention to by the national eye given the high profile nature of not only the opponents and times they play, but also because the Texans are 6-3, leading the AFC South, and have a pretty damned good quarterback of their own. But there are bigger implications at stake.

Ready for your closeup Mr. Watson?

Deshaun Watson is no stranger to the spotlight. We all know of his exploits while at Clemson, and we've all heard what his college coach thinks of him. Over the next three games, he has an opportunity to establish himself as not only an MVP candidate this season, but as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has to outplay and beat a current MVP frontrunner, division rival, and Hall of Famer to do so. The funny thing is, it's not farfetched given the immense amount of talent he has. He has enough talent around him and the ability to elevate said talent to get it done. No more excuses because stretches and opportunities like this don't present themselves too often.

Next man up

In 2010, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. They also had over 20 guys on injured reserve that year as well. No team goes through a season and wins at a high level without facing adversity. The excuse of guys being hurt is the reason for not succeeding is for losers. Every player on that roster is there because they're considered one of the best in the world at what they do. There are approximately seven billion people on this planet. Only 1,952 of them are actively on an NFL roster or practice squad (give or take some on injured reserve and other lists). While the guys on the middle to back end of the Texans' roster may not be the best, they also didn't make it this far without proving themselves capable. Lose the "we have guys injured" narrative and step up to win games.

Little brother syndrome

Over the course of their history, the Texans have had a little brother syndrome when it comes to the Colts and Patriots. The Colts have owned the AFC South and they've failed miserably at trying to be Patriots South. Both of these teams have been to and won Super Bowls since the Texans have been in the league. Both have also used the Texans as a doormat to those Super Bowls. Now is the time to start putting an end to both of those storylines. The Colts are still a good team, but they aren't the juggernaut they once were. The Patriots still seem to be the powerhouse they've always been, but also have chinks in their armor. Watson is the one piece the Texans have never had: a dynamic playmaker at the most critical position. Now is the time to punch these two older brothers in the mouth and establish a new trend.

A reason for arrogance

It's well-known that Bill O'Brien can be a prick. His smug answers and general arrogance are another reason why people feel this franchise is trying too hard to be Patriots South. He's seen as a Bill Belichek knock-off who doesn't have the skins on the wall to pull off Belichek's persona. If this team can not only win these next three games, but also begin to establish themselves as true title contenders for the foreseeable furture, O'Brien's attitude would be a lot more accepted. He seems to be more pleasent when things are going his way, so maybe he'd drop the asshole act altogether if the team is winning and contending. Whether he's a nice guy or not doesn't mean much to me, but his whole schtick would be more palatable if the Texans were making regular AFC Title game appearences.

I'm not saying this three game stretch will define this franchise for years to come. This stretch can springboard them into something bigger. Finishing this run 3-0, 9-3 overall, would give them supreme confidence as well as position them for a first round bye in the AFC playoffs. They would even have a shot at homefield advantage throughout should they finish with the same record as the Patriots. Now is when it's time for your nuts to drop and voices to deepen Texans. It's time to start shaving and wearing grown man deodorant. This is when you have to get a job and start paying bills. Growing up has to happen at some point, or you're just another bum living off your parents and more successful siblings.

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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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