Ravens 41, Texans 7

Texans offer no challenge to Ravens in ugly 41-7 loss

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The Texans had a chance to make a big statement on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. They did indeed make a big one; they are not ready to compete at the highest level. The Ravens might be the best team in football right now, and they looked like it. The Texans looked like an also-ran, losing 41-7. There is no shame in losing to the Ravens, but completely failing to show up and channeling your inner Miami Dolphin was an embarrassment. This was by far their worst performance of the season and maybe the worst of the Bill O'Brien era. It was reminiscent of the 30-0 playoff loss to the Chiefs. Here is how it all played out:

Offense

The positives: You're kidding, right? The only touchdown came in garbage time.

The negatives: We can stop with the Deshaun Watson MVP talk. He was badly outplayed by Lamar Jackson, who continues to stake his claim. Watson followed up an amazing performance in London with one of the worst efforts of his career.

They got off to another slow start, with a bad Watson fumble where he once again tried to do way too much. Fortunately it did not hurt them, as the Ravens missed a rare field goal. The next possession they went for it on fourth and three, threw a deep ball to Hopkins, who was interfered with in the end zone but there was no call. The Texans rightly challenged, but the NFL continued its trend of refusing to overturn interference calls. That was one of the only real shots to score a touchdown as it turned out, and they game quickly got away from them after that. Ka'imi Fairbairn missed yet another field goal in the first half. They allowed five first-half sacks (seven overall), although many of those were Watson's fault. They looked disjointed on offense, as they did in the first game against Jacksonville and in the loss to Carolina. They had just 102 yards in the first half, worst of the Watson era. There is no other way to say it; they were just bad.

Defense

The positives: Special teams made a nice stop on a fake field goal in the first quarter, reading it perfectly and stopping it on fourth down. Also, it was scoreless after one quarter. So there's that. Otherwise...

The negatives: After a solid beginning, holding Lamar Jackson to a 1-of-6 passing start, they had little answer for what has been the best offense in football, allowing the Ravens to score on six consecutive actual possessions (they did have a one-play knee down at the half). They got little pressure on Jackson, dropping multiple players into coverage, but Jackson was able to beat that. The third touchdown they allowed was vintage Texans defense; they failed to cover a running back out of the backfield on a wheel route. Injuries continued to plague the secondary, as both Lonnie Johnson and Justin Reid left the game. They were overmatched on this side of the ball, too.

The bottom line

This was an all-around awful performance, the worst of the Watson era. He completed 18-of-29 passes for 169 yards, zero TDs and a terrible interception and even worse fumble. He rushed for just 12, and was sacked six times. All the progress the Texans seemed to have made over the past month disappeared in one ugly afternoon. Lamar Jackson showed why he and Russell Wilson are the MVP leaders, hitting 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. He also added 86 yards rushing on just nine carries. In the battle of young star quarterbacks, Jackson dominated in what was no contest. The team stats were ugly as well. Baltimore had 25 first downs to 16, 492 yards to 232 (much of it garbage time yards) and led in time of possession 35:46 to 23:41. The Texans were just 2 of 10 on third downs and 1 of 4 on fourth down.

Bill O'Brien has done a good job in recent weeks, but they had no answers on either side of the ball. He also unnecessarily risked Watson by leaving him in the game down 34-0 in the fourth quarter. Why? To pad his crappy stats? He finally put in A.J. McCarron with 3:55 left down 41-7. He should have folded sooner and prepared for Thursday night's game against the Colts. He was lucky Watson was not hurt.

The Texans came out of the bye week looking like they had spent the entire time on the beach. The bad news is they face a quick turnaround and a must-win against the Colts and are now just 6-4 on the season, tied with Indy. At least they didn't expend much energy in this one. They have to regroup quickly or the season could spiral out of control in a hurry with the Colts and then Patriots on deck. This three-game stretch was going to be their big test. On the first section of it, they failed miserably.

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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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