FALCON POINTS

The 5 most embarrassing losses of the Bill O'Brien era

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Sunday's loss to the Broncos was a complete embarrassment. During the Bill O'Brien era, there have been no shortage of losses like this. Narrowing it down to five was not easy. Let's take a look back at the Hall of Shame:

No. 5: Ravens 41, Texans 7, Nov. 17, 2019

The Texans went into Baltimore on a nice roll, hoping to get a huge win and get themselves in position for a first-round bye. From the first possession, when Deshaun Watson had a terrible turnover, the Texans looked like a bad high school team. They had no answer on defense for Lamar Jackson, and the offense was unable to do anything. The Ravens are the best team in the AFC, so the shame level on this one is not as bad, but the effort (or lack thereof) in such a big game makes this one an easy addition to the list.

The next week: The Texans bounced back and beat the Colts in a Thursday night game 20-17.

No. 4: Falcons 48, Texans 21, Oct. 4, 2015

This game was an embarrassment from the beginning. As in many of these losses, they gave up a touchdown on offense early, were down 28-0 at the half and 42-0 at one point before adding some pointless garbage time points, another common theme in the losses. For O'Brien, it proved his team "didn't quit." In real life, it was a complete dismantling and the late scores were meaningless stat padders.

The next week: The dropped a 27-20 home game against the Colts.

No. 3: Dolphins 44, Texans 26, Oct. 25, 2015

Another where you can ignore the final score. The Texans were down 41-0 at one point and were dominated by Lamar Miller. The worst part? In his quest to make the score look better, O'Brien left Arian Foster in the game late, and he suffered a season ending injury. It was a dumb move to mask how unprepared the Texans were. In all of these games, the Texans were not ready, got in huge early holes, had poor game plans, and looked like they did not belong on the field. This was one of the worst.

The next week: They beat the Titans and reeled off four straight wins.

No. 2: Broncos 38, Texans 24, Dec. 8, 2019

The Texans were down 31-3 at halftime and never had any chance. They added 21 garbage time points to make the score look better, but make no mistake, this was a complete dismantling. As in all the other games, they were clueless on both sides of the ball and looked completely overmatched by a team that was 4-8 coming in and was starting a rookie QB. For a team that had high aspirations, the loss was a complete joke and was the kind of game that makes you question whether or not they can even make the playoffs. Leaving Deshaun Watson in to make the score look better was typical O'Brien and completely ridiculous.

The next week: They play at Tennessee in a game that could knock them out of the division lead.

No. 1: Chiefs 30, Texans 0, Jan. 9, 2016

Hopes were high as the Texans had a home playoff game. The hopes ended on the opening kickoff as the Chiefs returned the initial kickoff for a touchdown. Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw four picks, and who can forget the brilliant idea to have J.J. Watt run the wildcat? The thing that stands out about this game and the Baltimore loss? No empty points at the end to make it look better. In fact, no points at all.

The next week: There wasn't one. They were ousted from the playoffs.

The common thread

In every case, the Texans entered with a bad game plan, got in massive holes, and never had any chance, and O'Brien had no answers. Good teams play bad games all the time, but how often do they look completely unprepared and never have an opportunity? In every one of these games, you knew they were beaten by the second quarter. O'Brien has too many of these clueless efforts on his resume. Will they bounce back next week? History says yes, but after Sunday, do you have any faith in that?

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The numbers show a concerning trend. Composite image by Brandon Strange

Michael Brantley signed a two-year, $30M deal with the Houston Astros prior to 2019 to little fanfare. The then 32 year-old was coming off of yet another injury riddled season with the Cleveland Indians, and the signing was seen as a safe gamble (if there is such a thing). Brantley would produce if healthy, but would he ever be healthy?

Brantley went on to have two of the healthiest seasons of his career, putting up big numbers for the Astros. Across two seasons, Brantley slashed .309/.370/.497 with a 134 wRC+. The Astros got the best version of Brantley, who had slashed .295/.351/.430 with a 114 wRC+ during his tenure with the Indians.

Brantley is set to hit the market once again, and the Astros face a couple of questions. One, is Brantley worth bringing back? Two, is Brantley worth a qualifying offer?

Hard Hit % - 37.3%

Barrel % - 4.9%

K % - 15%

BB % - 9.1%

Chase % - 20.1%

(All numbers from 2020)

Brantley's greatest skill is controlling the strike zone. He forces pitchers to come to him, and he's only getting better at it. His chase % was the best of his career, and it was 6% better than his 26% mark in 2019. Brantley was t-19th in MLB in chase % with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Yasmani Grandal. Brantley combines this enviable level of plate discipline with another enviable trait: he doesn't swing and miss. His 16.4% whiff % was in the 93rd percentile of MLB. By comparison, Acuña and Grandal were in the 29th and 26th percentiles respectively. Those two don't chase often because they keyhole one spot that they know they can drive. Brantley forces pitchers to come in the zone similar to those two, but he usually doesn't swing and miss when the pitchers do come to him.

However, there are some alarming trends for a hitter now well onto the wrong side of 30.

His 15% K% was the highest it's been since 2011, when he was a 24-year-old in his first full big league season. It was a 4.6% increase in K% over last season. Brantley's 16% whiff % is far and away the worst it's been in his career, and it's 5.6% worse than it was in 2019. That 5.6% is the difference between swinging-and-missing the second least in MLB and swinging-and-missing the 11th least. That's a steep drop over one season. Remember, Brantley chased pitches outside the zone the least he ever had in his career. That increase in whiff % mostly came on strikes. His contact % on strikes dropped 4.8% from 2019.

A big indicator of age is the inability to catch up with the fastball. Brantley's 13.2% whiff rate against fastballs in 2020 was the worst it's been in his career. The second worst? 7.5% back in 2011. On the surface, Brantley performed fine on fastballs in 2020. He batted .295 with a .438 SLG against them. But it gets a little uglier just one level deeper. Brantley's xBA on fastballs was .242. His xSLG was .410.

Compared to his 2019 performance against fastballs, it was quite the downturn. Brantley batted .320 against fastballs in 2019 with a .311 xBA. He slugged .501 with a xSLG of .506. Lastly, Brantley had an 89.3 average exit velocity on fastballs in 2019 compared to 87.4 in 2020. The downturn in fastball productivity is alarming.

Brantley performed great against breaking balls and offspeed pitches in 2020, but once pitchers realize that he can't stay on the fastball like he used to, Brantley will be setup for failure, not success.

Brantley doesn't run well either. His average sprint speed of 26.2 ft/s was in the 34th percentile in MLB. Brantley did perform well defensively by nearly every metric, but he was in the 39th percentile in outfielder jump. He really can't afford a downturn defensively, and with Yordan Alvarez returning as the full time DH next season, they won't have the ability to give Brantley the occasional day off his legs at DH

The qualifying offer has been set at $18.9M for the 2020 offseason. Considering Houston's lack of draft picks due to their punishment for technological sign-stealing, recouping some of that draft capital would be helpful for the club. $18.9M would represent a $3.9M raise for Brantley, which is exactly the price of not being able to bring back Brad Peacock.

It's unlikely that Brantley will regress so quickly that he'll be unplayable in 2021. He will likely be a productive ballplayer. Considering that the Astros can afford to pay the raise in salary if he accepts the qualifying offer, it is worth giving it to him. If he declines the QO, however, it isn't worth giving him a multi-year deal. There are too many signs of regression, and anything more than one year is a risk. If Brantley demands a multi-year deal, the Astros should let him walk and take the draft pick compensation.

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