CHARLIE PALLILO

Texans' next few opponents provide opportunity; Bregman on a tear for Astros

J.J. Watt made an impact in his return. Jadeveon Clowney did not. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Texans-Titans game in Nashville Sunday is basically a pick ‘em. The Titans are off making the playoffs but no one thinks they have a special squad, especially if Marcus Mariota remains a mediocrity of a quarterback. The Texans have no shot at making the playoffs if Deshaun Watson is a mediocrity of a quarterback, which is what he was at the Patriots. He is not consistently accurate as a thrower and is prone to some dubious choices. The need is Watson doing enough spectacular things to carry more days than not. But that offensive line he’s behind, yuck. Four new starters represent an upgrade over last year’s talent cesspool but by NFL standards it remains a weak unit, especially at tackle. Julie’n Davenport looked in over his head against Deacon Jones. Wait. I mean against Trey Flowers. Martinas Rankin isn’t developed yet, but will have to OJT it with Seantrel Henderson lost to a broken ankle. At least that’s not like trying to replace a Jonathan Ogden or Anthony Munoz.

After generally being a non-entity in the first half at New England J.J. Watt showed flashes in the second, but no one should be holding his or her breath on a return to superhero level dominance. If Watt doesn’t sack Mariota, Tuesday will mark the two year anniversary of his last sack.

At least Watt flashed something. Jadaveon Clowney was close to a zero, clearly not up to off speed coming of knee surgery. For a guy dreaming of a contract extension in the league of what fellow 2014 draft class defenders Khalil Mack (90 million dollars guaranteed) and Aaron Donald got (87 mil guaranteed) Clowney better ramp it up substantially.

A 1-1 split of season opening road games at 2017 playoff teams and the Texans are fine. Should the Texans lose and Jacksonville beats New England in Florida Sunday, the Texans will already be in trouble re: chasing an AFC South title.

Each of the Texans’ next five opponents also lost their season openers: Titans, Giants, Colts, Cowboys, Bills.

Best record doesn't always matter

The Red Sox have clearly been the best team in baseball this year. That’s over the run of the 162 game regular season. Boston will have homefield advantage for all playoff series it plays. But with 3 rounds of playoffs to survive in order to win the World Series, the best team of the season usually doesn’t win the Series.  Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, only five times in 23 years has the team with the best regular season record in the majors gone on to win the World Series.

The Astros were phenomenal last season, but the Indians (102) and Dodgers (104) won more regular season games than did the Astros (101). The Astros are cruising toward clinching their playoff spot, though the A’s deserve truckloads of credit for keeping a little suspense in the American League West race. But most of the sand has slipped through the hour hour glass. Up four in the loss column going into the weekend the Astros would have to falter to wind up in the Wild Card game.

Bregman stock is booming

Alex Bregman is brash and borderline cocky, yet somehow remains grounded at the same time. It’s a helluva package because Bregman is entitled to thinking every waking moment right now: “I AM AWESOME!”

With 16 games to spare Bregman made reality the statistical combo platter I suggested a few weeks ago as within reach for him. 50 doubles, 30 homers, 100 runs batted in, and 100 runs scored. He’s the first third baseman ever to hit the 50 double 30 homer daily double.

It’s a bit early to load up on Alex Bregman Hall of Fame stock. This could turn out to be the best season he ever has. But Bregman’s season is about as awesome as the campaign Chipper Jones put up in 1999 as the Atlanta Braves third baseman. Chipper was a stud and then some, his unbelievable second half in ‘99 distanced him from Jeff Bagwell to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Chipper Jones went into the Hall this summer.

Bregman’s season would fit very well on a Hall of Fame resume. Not as great as, say, Mike Schmidt or George Brett’s best. But it’s so good, that at 24 years old, Bregman is now a plausible blip on the Hall radar. Fewer third basemen have been elected to the Hall than players of any other position. Several who are in never had a season as tremendous as Alex Bregman’s 2018.

Buzzer Beaters

1. In the last 18 games that count Bill O’Brien is 4-14. One win for every year of his contract extension.  2. Texas! USC! Meh. TCU-Ohio St. is much bigger and more interesting, though not predicted to be as close. 3. Best NFL helmets: Bronze-Raiders  Silver-Rams Gold-Bengals

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome