THE PALLILOG

Where the Texans stand in the AFC pecking order after big win over the Patriots

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At 8-4 have the Texans stamped themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders? No they have not. Not yet. They're making progress, but not yet. Have you seen the Ravens? The Ravens who pulverized the Texans 41-7 in Baltimore 3 weeks ago? Still, beating a 10-1 Patriots team was stout. But the game was in Houston, under an obnoxiously and laughably closed roof. To be a Super Bowl team the Texans are going to have win in January, on the road, probably twice.

The Texans still have faint hopes for a first round playoff bye. They're two games behind New England, but the Patriots do play the Chiefs this Sunday and the Bills in two weeks. However, both those games are in Foxborough where the Pats are undefeated this season. Quick: name the only other NFL team perfect at home this season. Answer below in Buzzer Beaters.

Following games vs. the Ravens, Colts, and Patriots it's understandable that the lowly Broncos coming to town brings very little buzz. It's a take out the trash game for the Texans to get to 9-4. They then could wrap up the AFC South with a win in Nashville next Sunday. On the other hand, the Titans know that if they if win in Oakland Sunday, they take the South by beating the Texans twice over the final three games.

Rockets recover

Excellent bounce back win for the Rockets Thursday night in Toronto. Hitting 40 percent of 55 three point attempts facilitated the victory. That after the Rockets looked ridiculous in thinking the NBA should award them a win over the Spurs because of the James Harden uncredited dunk in Tuesday's lame loss at San Antonio. That only enhanced their reputation as a whiny organization, which is too bad because it's a really good organization. As if a basket they didn't get with more than half the fourth quarter remaining decided the game. The Rockets lost that game because they fell apart, puking up a 22 point lead against a bad Spurs team.

The Rockets lost that game because their defense disintegrated. Not a rarity so far this season. The Rockets lost that game because despite scoring 50 points James Harden was not good. 11 of 38 shooting, kept jacking up long threes on a night when he was making very few (4-20). Harden is a streaky three point shooter. Overall this season he is below NBA average behind the three point line.

The Rockets lost that game because Russell Westbrook was horrible. A triple double rings verrrrry hollow in a game where Westbrook made seven of 30 shots from the floor. As over his NBA career, Westbrook is a phenomenally exciting player to watch. Also as over his NBA career, he is a phenomenally bad outside shooter. No other player in NBA history with as lousy a three point percentage as Westbrook's is within a thousand three point attempts of Westbrook's total. So far this season he's a ridiculously inept 22 percent. The Rockets, so smart with analytics, are so dumb if they continue to encourage, or allow, Westbrook to take on average more than five threes per game. The Westbricking will continue. He's 31 years old, it's basketball insane to hope he'll now develop into a good outside shooter. Or a decent one.

The 14-7 Rockets are again clearly a very good team, but they also look like a B-list contender. At least there's plenty of season left to upgrade from there.

Astros likely to be quiet

The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings open Sunday in San Diego. The Astros' roster is now so top heavy with massive salaries that it will be a big surprise if they make any significant additions. They have no legitimate starting catcher. Resigning Robinson Chirinos seems the most likely play there. They want/need to add a back of the rotation starter and will be shopping the discount bin, but may still blanch at those prices. The Astros are unlikely to offer market value for Will Harris or Joe Smith to return to the bullpen, and instead keep clearly inferior but much cheaper guys like Chris Devenski and Joe Biagini. Trading Jake Marisnick to the Mets to shave a couple of million dollars off the payroll is a sign of the times. Myles Straw will play for about one fifth of what Marisnick will make in 2020. There are no takers for Josh Reddick's 13 million dollar salary for 2020, the Astros literally cannot give him away.

The Astros' overall talent remains outstanding. The lineup is super-stacked, the pitching should still be fine overall unless Justin Verlander or Zack Greinke shows notable slippage. But if the Yankees sign Gerrit Cole they obviously go into the season with the best American League squad on paper

​Buzzer Beaters

1. SKOL! The Vikings are 5-0 at home. 2. The NFL 100 greatest players list Friday night reveals its 13 greatest defensive backs. My all-time starting secondary: Corners Deion Sanders and Dick "Night Train" Lane. Safeties Ronnie Lott and Ed Reed. Nickel back 1980 Lester Hayes. 3. Lone Star State FBS Un-Coach of the Year medalists: Bronze-Jimbo Fisher Silver-Tom Herman Gold-Dana Holgorsen








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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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