TEXANS 13, JAGUARS 12

Texans use familiar formula from last season: Win ugly

Michele Watson/Houstontexans.com

Like many of the Texans wins last season, this one wasn't pretty. But it was a win. The Texans grinded out a 13-12 victory over Jacksonville to go to 1-1 on the season. The Jags did as much to lose it as the Texans did to win it.

It would be easy to be critical of the performance, but considering they were coming off an emotional opener and a short week, some rust was expected. Just maybe not this much. A look at some of the positives and negatives:

Offense

The positives: They ran the ball very effectively, especially with Carlos Hyde. He rushed 20 times for 90 yards and averaged 4.5 per carry. Despite giving up four sacks (hey, at least it was down from six last week) the Texans offensive line looked better. Rodrick Johnson started at right tackle and looked like an upgrade over Seantrell Henderson. Rookie Titus Howard started at left guard with mixed results including a bad penalty on a third down play that might have iced the game.

The negatives: Deshaun Watson was inaccurate for much of the game, and clearly was not at his best. He finished 17 of 30 for just 173 yards. He did not turn the ball over and rushed for a touchdown, but only got six yards on the ground. Still, they did not pass the ball very effectively, even with the Jags missing corner A.J. Bouye. Watson has historically struggled against Jacksonville and Sunday was no different. To be fair, the Jags secondary did a hell of a job on the Texans WRs.

DEFENSE

The positives: This unit looked much better than on Monday night, but then they were facing Gardner Minshew, not Drew Brees. The Jags helped with untimely penalties and missed passes, but the Texans still managed four sacks, forced a key fumble that led to the Texans touchdown, and limited Leonard Fournette for much of the game, including stopping him on the final two-point play. Whitney Mercilus had two sacks and forced the key fumble that decided the game.

The negatives: The Texans defense was terrific all day until it mattered. They let a rookie QB drive down the field for a touchdown. Rather than go for the tie, the Jags went for two and the win, and the Texans managed to stop Fournette again. The Jags are the kind of team Romeo Crennel defenses feast against. They play back and wait for teams to make mistakes. Brees does not make a lot of mistakes. A rookie QB is a different story. Minshew was not awful, going 23 of 33 for 213 yards with no interceptions, and he also rushed for 56 yards and almost led his team all the way back. But they came up just short. Props to Doug Marrone for going for the win. Meanwhile, J.J. Watt continues to struggle, with just two tackles. The corners were better until the fourth quarter, but the Jags receivers will never be confused for the Saints.

COACHING

The positives: With 11:35 left in the game and the Texans up 6-3, Bill O'Brien gambled on a fourth and one from the 2 yard line. It paid off when Deshaun Watson scored a touchdown to give them a 10-point lead. It was a good decision that turned into a good outcome. We rip O'Brien a lot for his decisions, but this was a good one. However...

The negatives: One of the consistently frustrating traits of the O'Brien era has been his terrible clock management at the end of the half and end of games. It was on display once again against the Jags at the end of the first half.

The Texans converted a third-and-11 coming out of the two-minute warning. It was 34 seconds before they got another play off, even with three timeouts. They let more time run off after another conversion, and wound up having to kick a field goal with two seconds left for a 6-3 lead. Better clock management could have led to a touchdown. They went to the half with two timeouts in their pocket. We have seen this act so many times from O'Brien, it's hard to expect anything else. It's just dumb football, but it is Year 6 of O'Brien, so at this point, it is part of his DNA.

It almost proved costly at the end of the game.

As usual, in the postgame, O'Brien refused to admit he did anything wrong. When asked if they should have taken a time out, he responded with his usual know-it-all bluster.

First he was asked if they had to kick the field goal because they ran out of time.

"No no no. I think that was strategy the whole drive."

The follow up: The strategy on the drive was to kick a field goal?

His answer: "No it was to score a touchdown. Felt like we were in good shape there to score a touchdown then there at the end we didn't get the touchdown so I decided with two seconds left to kick a field goal. Could've gone for there and decided to kick the field goal."

Finally he was asked if he should have taken a timeout earlier.

"No. We had two plays there and just took a little time getting lined up on the two plays but no we don't...I think you're talking about Hopkins' catch and then after that you know we could have taken a timeout but we had two plays. Took a little longer to get lined up than we thought and we'll work on that this week."

You have had six years to work on this, Billy.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Pretty? No. Effective? Yes. You would like to see the Texans actually go out and take a game like this as opposed to having the opponent fail on a two-point try. Things like this were a staple of many of their wins last season. The Texans will need to be much better next week against the Chargers, but at least they escaped with a win. It's weird; they looked much better in a loss to the Saints than they did a win over Jacksonville, but that's football.

Especially Texans football.

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What do the numbers say about him? Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Carlos Correa endeared himself in the heart of Astros fans during his 2020 postseason run. He talked the talk off the field, and he walked the walk on the field. Correa slashed .362/.455/.766 in the postseason, hitting more home runs in 13 postseason games than he did in 58 regular season games. His performance has sparked discussions about whether or not the Astros should seek an extension with him this offseason.

Aside from the gaudy postseason numbers, he asserted himself as a team leader. The images and stories of Correa talking to Framber Valdez on the mound, telling Dusty Baker he was going to hit the walk off, and saying this is the most fun he's ever had playing baseball are fresh in everyone's minds.

However, that's just thirteen games out of a 667 game career (counting the postseason). The postseason games are the most important, and Correa seems to show up when the lights shine brightest, but the Astros have to assemble a team good enough to play under the bright lights for Correa to get that moment to shine. What do the numbers say about him?

Hard Hit % - 41.8%

Barrel % - 5.9%

K% - 21.8%

BB% - 7.3%

Chase % - 31.8%

(Numbers from 2020)

By the numbers, Correa didn't have the greatest regular season in 2020. He slashed .264/.326/.383 with a 97 wRC+, meaning he was 3% worse in run production that the average hitter. He was tied for 14th amongst qualified shortstops with Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Francisco Lindor (100 wRC+) was one spot ahead of Correa, while Orlando Arcia (96 wRC+) was one spot behind. His Hard Hit % was in the 65th percentile in MLB, and his Barrel % was in the 34th percentile.

His expected numbers suggest that the dip in performance wasn't a matter of bad luck. His .256 xBA is slightly worse than his actual batting average. His .406 xSLG is slightly better than his actual .SLG, but not by much. Correa had a wOBA of .305 and a nearly identical xwOBA of .306. Lastly, his .324 BABIP was actually a .021 point jump over last year, and it's a touch above his career mark of .316.

Correa likely struggled during the regular season because of a downturn in production to the opposite field. Correa pulled the ball 49% of the time in 2020. That was 16th amongst qualified hitters, and it's a complete outlier for him in his career. It was 14.4% higher than 2019, and it was 15.6% higher than his career average. In 2019, Correa had a 9% HR% on batted balls to the opposite field. He had an average exit velocity of 87.7 MPH with an average launch angle of 27°. His batting average was .368 with a xBA of .349 to that part of the field. In 2020, Correa had a 0% HR% to the opposite field (meaning he didn't hit one). He had an average exit velocity of 86.8 MPH with an average launch angle of 30°. His batting average was .382, but his xBA was .259. Keep in mind, Correa missed most of the 2019 season with injury, so the sample sizes aren't all that different (57 AB's in 2019 versus 34 AB's in 2020).

It's a similar story for the straightaway portion of the field. In 2019, Correa had an 11% HR%, 90.4 MPH avg. exit velocity, 8° avg. launch angle, .370 BA, and .424 xBA between the gaps. In 2020, Correa had a 5% HR%, 88.5 MPH avg. exit velocity, 4° avg. launch angle, .349 BA, and .362 xBA.

That all changed in the postseason.

Here is an overlay of Correa's spray charts from postseason games in which he hit home runs. Five of his six postseason homers were to center field, and three of the five to center field were on the opposite field side of second base.

Correa also made some physical changes at the plate over the course of the season, particularly late in the season, which means that the uptick in offensive performance is related to a physical change, not just some sort of ability to turn it on in the postseason. Correa mentioned that he and Alex Cintron compared video to his rookie season to look at hand positioning, and Correa started to mimic that. Then, there's the already-famed story of Correa and Cintron running to the cages mid-game to open up his shoulders and be less closed off. All of those changes are clearly visible on video.

On the left is Correa early in the 2020 season when the Astros were in San Diego playing the Padres. In the middle is Correa's first career home run in 2015. On the right is Correa's walk-off homer against Tampa Bay. There are four clear and obvious changes. First, he's holding the bat nearly straight up, which he wasn't doing at the beginning of the season. It supports Correa's claim that he and Cintron were looking at video from 2015 and trying to mirror that swing again. Then, there's the change with Correa's shoulders. In the first photo, if it weren't so grainy, you could read "C-O-R-R-E" in Correa. Same deal with the second photo, except it's even more clear. In the third photo, you can only read "C-O" which also supports the story of that mid-game adjustment with Cintron. Third, Correa has a lot less forward body lean with his torso. Correa hasn't spoken as to why he made that change, but it is probably tied to shoulder and bat orientation and helps him feel more comfortable. Lastly, Correa opened his stance, which is almost always going to help with vision.

The changes all probably help Correa feel more free when he swings. His postseason swing was much more North-and-South than East-and-West. His hands are able to work freely underneath his shoulders, and he has to do a lot less work to clear space for his hands to work. It's encouraging that the uptick in performance is clearly tied to physical work in the cage.

Correa did bring solid defense to the table as well. He's a finalist for the AL Gold Glove Award at SS along with Niko Goodrum of the Detroit Tigers and J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners. Correa will likely win the award. However, the defensive metrics are mixed on his performance.

Errors don't count as an advanced statistic, but they still bring value to the table. There's a direct correlation between making errors and giving up free bases. Now, just because a player doesn't make many errors doesn't mean he's an elite defender, but it's hard to be an elite defender if you make lots of errors. Correa takes care of the baseball, as his one error was tied for the least amongst shortstops. Correa also performed glowingly by DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). His DRS of 8 was second amongst shortstops, second behind only Dansby Swanson. However, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) had Correa at -0.7, which is below average. His OAA (Outs Above Average) of 0 roughly agrees with his UZR rating. Essentially, the numbers say Correa makes the routine plays about as well as anybody, but he isn't particularly rangy. His arm is also impressive and brings a lot to the table. Correa isn't a bad defensive shortstop by any means, he's above average, but this is probably the only Gold Glove he'll ever be nominated for, much less win.

When Correa is healthy and on his game, he is one of the most electric players in baseball. The problem is he hasn't been healthy and on his game nearly enough in his career. Over his five full major league seasons, Correa has missed 203 out of 708 games. He's been unavailable, mostly due to injury, in 30% of games over that time. That's quite a bit. The three injuries that have caused him to miss the most time are all back and torso related. The fact that the back issues have recurred is alarming, and it's something to monitor. It is really hard to be a good baseball player with a bad back. Credit to Correa, he stayed healthy for all of 2020, but it was only a 60 game season, which means there were fewer opportunities for injury. If he has another healthy season in 2021, it'll be enough to put the injury prone label to rest, but he hasn't done it yet.

And again, there's the issue of his performance being up-and-down over the years. In 2018, Correa missed 52 games due to injury, and had a wRC+ of 100, meaning he was exactly league average. That means he's been only league average or worse in two of his six big league seasons. Correa played extremely well in 2019, racking up 3.2 WAR and 143 wRC+, but he only played 75 games.

Between COVID, injury history, and streaky performance, there's too much uncertainty to give Correa a long term deal right now. However, his peaks, leadership ability, and apparent willingness to stay in Houston certainly make him a candidate for one. 2021 will be a "prove it" year for Correa, and it will go a long way in ranking him amongst the crop of shortstops hitting the free agent market after next year. Is Correa at the top of that market with Francisco Lindor, or is he at the bottom of that market with Javy Baez?

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