THE LEFT TURN

The show goes on in Atlanta for the QuickTrip 500

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The show goes on this weekend as NASCAR heads for Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500. As everyone knows, the world is in a crisis right now with the Corona-virus and with the NBA, MLB, MLS and the NCAA all canceling events, the question then became what was next for NASCAR. On Thursday it was announced that both races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead Miami will be run as planned without fans. Of the 24 years that I have been on earth, this is something that I have never seen before in my life. Right now with all that is going on with people's livelihood at stake, a NASCAR race is secondary. I hope that everyone out there that is taking the time to read this article is well and remains healthy. With all of the bad news out there, I do take comfort in knowing that my favorite sport will be running this week but my heart breaks for everyone that planned for months to make it down there to Atlanta and watch. I would imagine that there will be a lot more attention on the sport considering it will be one of the only major events happening. This track has provided many classic moments over the course of it's 60 year tenure on the schedule and this week, I think there is a good chance we see another classic finish. There is however a chance of rain in the forecast though so that could also be another factor come sunday.

While the Cup cars will run on Sunday, one of the big headlines this week is the truck race that will be run on Saturday. Two weeks ago at Vegas, Kyle Busch went on to claim his 57th career victory after he thoroughly destroyed the field. This prompted driver Kyle Larson to go on twitter and suggest that Busch cherry-picks the races in the truck series that he wants to run and goes out and dominates. This led Kevin Harvick to offer up $50,000 to any Cup regular that can go out and beat him. After seeing this owner of Gander Outdoor's (the title sponsor of the truck series) offered $50,000 of his own to the bounty. The rules are that drivers won't have to win the race to claim the money just finish ahead of Busch and they also can't wreck him either otherwise they will not be eligible to claim the money. While the added drama will definitely bring a lot more attention to the race, I have to say it's rather quaint to see a lot of fans get excited when most of them were calling for Cup drivers not to race in the lower leagues. Regardless, just as a race fan I will be interested to see if any of these drivers can step up and beat one of the best drivers around. This "bounty" doesn't just extend to Cup regulars either as the Haulmark trailer company also offered $50,000 to any truck series regular that can beat Kyle Busch as well. The rules are that drivers won't have to win the race to claim the money just finish ahead of Busch. It should be one of the better truck races of the season.

The driver that I have winning the race on Sunday is Martin Truex Jr. As we all know, 2020 has not been a kind season to the 2017 champion as he has ran into his fair share of trouble. At Las Vegas he seemed to have a race winning car before cutting down a tire and crashing then last week at Phoenix he was involved in a late race crash with Aric Almirola. He has an abysmal average finish of 24.5 but that shouldn't indicate how fast he has been this season and if he can just get luck on his side, I really think he is going to win a lot of races this season. I look for Truex to really be a contender come Sunday to finally break the cycle and get his first win of the season

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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