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Texans vs Colts: The good, bad and ugly

Jadeveon Clowney emerged from the shadows. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

The Texans ended their losing streak by escaping the clutches of long-time division pain in the ass Colts 37-34. The offense looked good, but the defense looked like a flickering light, only showing brief intermittent flashes. Let’s take a look at things from my point of view:

The Good

-Jadeveon Clowney had one of those peakaboo games in which he flashes that all-world potential. He had a fumble recovery for touchdown and two sacks, including one in overtime in which he made Colts’ top pick Quenton Nelson look foolish. Not to mention plays in which he shot the gaps to stop a couple runs and force an incomplete.

-Bill O’Brien reverted back to last year’s play calling that sprung Deshaun Watson into stardom. The debut of Keke Coutee (13 touches for 107 yards) gave O’Brien another weapon to play with. He found creative ways to get the rookie the ball, as well as take advantage of Watson’s playmaking ability.

- Colts coach Frank Reich “O’Brien-ed” it by going for it on fourth down from their 43 yard line. The pass fell incomplete and the Texans took advantage. With no timeouts and only 24 seconds left, Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for a 24-yard gain that set up a Ka’imi Fairbairn's 37 yard game-winning field goal. Good thing the biggest boneheaded move came from the opposing coach this time.

The Bad

-The run game has been a staple this year. Today however, it regressed. They averaged a measly 3.2 yards per rush. Watson was the only ball carrier that averaged more than four yards a carry.

-Tyrann Mathieu has been good for the defense, for the most part. Today he was flagged for a hold on a play that would’ve resulted in a punt and was beaten for a touchdown on a wheel route by a backup running back. Not calling him Honey Badger until he improves.

- Colts quarterback Andrew Luck torched the Texans’ secondary to the tune of 464 yards and four touchdowns. Despite J.J. Watt and Clowney’s best efforts, the secondary continues to haunt the defense.

The Ugly

-Jonathan Joseph was beaten badly in press coverage by T.Y. Hilton for a 48-yard gain. This explains why he gives so much cushion: HE CAN’T RUN! At his advanced age, he’s better as a locker room leader for the young guys.

-Kendal Lamm started at right tackle in place of Julien Davenport. He only got called for two penalties today. This explains how bad the offensive line is. Watson has to create time to throw. If not, he gets killed.

-The defense went from brick wall to wet tissue went it counted most. Up 28-17 in the fourth quarter, they proceeded to give up 17 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The back breaker was the game-tying score and two-point conversion with under a minute left. Also, had O’Brien not wasted that last timeout, it could’ve been used to kick game-winning field goal.

The Texans almost went full Texans and gave the game up in fourth quarter/overtime. The defense is like I described earlier. They’re that one light in your attic that never stays on all the time. Instead, it’ll shine bright as the sun when on, and make the room as black as midnight in the Arctic when off. Good thing O’Brien decided to remember what Watson is capable of today. If this offense can continue to put up points and the defense becomes average, they might be able to salvage this season. I doubt it, but would love to be proven wrong.

 

 

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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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