WWE WRAP-UP

This week in WWE: Celebrating 25 years of Raw and closing the Royal Rumble build

The Miz wins his eighth Intercontinental Championship leaving fans to wonder what is next for Roman Reigns. Photo by WWE.com

This is a weekly look at the action in the WWE:

Raw

The 25th Anniversary edition of Raw opened at the Manhattan Center. The venue was designed to look like the original Monday Night Raw set, and it featured Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on commentary. They then sent it to the Barclays Center where our weekly commentary team welcomed the audience. In the ring, Stephanie and Shane McMahon explained how the night would work with one show coming from two arenas. They, then, welcomed Vince McMahon to “smell the roses” and celebrate the achievement of 25 years of Raw. Vince turned it, of course, explaining that the only person he had to thank was himself. This prompted Stone Cold to come out and give both Shane and Vince a few Stone Cold Stunners, for old times’ sake. An Eight Women’s Tag match saw Sasha Banks, Bayley, Asuka, and Mickie James defeat Absolution, Alicia Fox and Nia Jax. After the match, Asuka turned on her teammates and took turns throwing them out of the ring. Raw returned to the Manhattan Center where Undertaker made his return to the ring to recount all the victims he has “buried.”

The APA played cards backstage with Rhyno, Heath Slater and Ted Dibiase. The Miz challenged Roman Reigns for his Intercontinental Championship. Per usual, the Mizterouge did all they could to ensure Miz would not lose. The referee, eventually, caught them and ejected them from ringside. Reigns would crash into an exposed turnbuckle and, after a second Skull Crushing Finale, was pinned by the Miz, who won his eighth Intercontinental Championship. Christian hosted a special edition of The Peep Show featuring Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan. The Bar crashed the party and caused Rollins to accidentally knee Jordan. Backstage, Alexa Bliss and Charlotte exchanged insults. Ric Flair decided to pop in and explained to Bliss that his daughter will be the champion “until she decides to hang it up.” Bray Wyatt defeated Matt Hardy after hitting him with a Sister Abigail.

Backstage, Chris Jericho put Elias on The List. This inspired Elias’ song of the night, a song where he insulted all the WWE Legends who were on the show that night. John Cena came to the ring after Elias said he “has no balls.” Cena went for an Attitude Adjustment, but Elias countered with a Low Blow and broke his guitar on his back. Titus Brand tagged against Rhyno and Heath Slater. The match ended in a DQ after the two teams started brawling. The Dudley Boys came to the ring and took care of Heath Slater, putting him through a table with a 3D. Degeneration X welcomed Razor Ramon to the Manhattan Center. Ramon explained that the celebration has been “too sweet” prompting The Balor Club to come to the ring where all the men shared a Too Sweet greeting. The Revival crashed the celebration in order to get their match against Gallows and Anderson started. It did not take long for Gallows and Anderson to put them away. After the match, Scott Dawson tried confronting Ramon and ended up getting attacked by every single member of DX and Finn Balor.  Raw closed with a big brawl between Kane, Strowman, and Brock Lesnar. Lesnar took care of Kane, but Strowman got the last laugh after putting the Champion through a table with a Running Power Slam.

Highlight of the night: I am going to cheat here, only because they made it too hard for me to choose. Typically, I couldn't care less about WWE’s constant use of nostalgic wrestlers. I really liked how they did it this week, though. Raw has become an unmissable show, this was especially the case this week.

SmackDown Live

Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens opened the show warning AJ Styles. They are not only going to take his WWE Championship, they're going to hurt him. They suggested Styles take on both of them, individually, that night. Styles hesitated, but eventually accepted when Daniel Bryan came out to the ring. Backstage, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan argued about Styles being placed in two matches. Bryan asked him if he was questioning Styles’ ability. McMahon responded that Styles was not the one whose ability he was questioning. Chad Gable defeated Jey Uso after a beautiful suplex sequence. Nakamura explained that he is going to win the Royal Rumble. Naomi defeated Liv Morgan with a Sunset Flip pin. After the match, the women’s division brawled and previewed the Royal Rumble as they began throwing each other over the ring.

Shinsuke Nakamura took on Baron Corbin. Just when it looked like Nakamura was going to win the match, Randy Orton surprised him with an RKO, and hit Corbin with one himself, for good measure. Bobby Roode teamed up with the New Day and defeated Mahal, Rusev and Aiden English in a Six Man Tag Match. McMahon came out before the main event to explain that if Owens or Zayn got involved in each other’s match against Styles they would be fired. AJ Styles made quick work of Kevin Owens submitting him with a Calf Crusher. Styles refused to let go of the submission, so Zayn raced down and began attacking Styles before their match.  Zayn’s attack continued outside of the ring. Eventually, the match got started. Styles kept leaving the ring to attack Owens, who was being treated after apparently being hurt. Styles did it one time too many, and it cost him the match against Zayn, who pinned the champion after a Blue Thunder Bomb.

Highlight of the Night: I’m not crazy about Randy Orton, but, I’ve got to say, the RKO out of nowhere never fails to be a highlight.

How do they compare?

Maybe I am feeling extra optimistic this week, or maybe my expectations are too low, but I thought SmackDown had a good week. Considering the fact there was no way it could match Raw’s special show, it did all it could to bring the brand home for the Royal Rumble. Raw’s anniversary show got a lot of criticism. Some of it was warranted, like making those in the Manhattan center sit in the dark and watch Raw from Barclays for over an hour. Overall, the show wrapped everything up for the Royal Rumble, as well, it provided some funny moments featuring DX and The Balor Club, or the APA Poker matches. Of course, Raw gets the edge, but SmackDown did enough to keep me interested in what they will bring to the table this Sunday at the Royal Rumble.

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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.

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