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Kyle Tucker: Trade Bait or Astros’ next Superstar?

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As everyone knows, Kyle Tucker’s entry into the Major leagues did not go as planned. His triple slash line of .141/.236/.203 across 72 Plate Appearances was shockingly terrible. Tucker came into 2018 as our #2 ranked prospect (by minorleagueball.com). Let’s start with some scouting reports and how we got to where we are today.

History

Kyle Tucker was the 1st round, 5th overall draft pick in 2015. Noted for having the best High School swing in the draft. Tucker bats left, throws right, and still has plenty of room to grow into his 6’4, 190 lb frame.

Pre-Draft

“Tucker has one of the purest swings and best bats in the 2015 high school crop. He makes consistent hard contact and, once he fills out his lanky frame, he could be a plus hitter in both average and power. He’s a more well-rounded player than his older brother and should have average-or-better tools across the board. He’ll likely move from center field to a corner spot in pro ball and has the arm strength needed to play right” – John Mayo (MLB.com’s Prospect Watch)

Prospect Report

Fangraphs has Tucker listed as their #8 prospect, with the following Prospect Report

Pre vs Post Season

From their Pre-season rankings, Minorleagueball had the following to say:

“2.) Kyle Tucker, OF, Grade A-/A: Age 20, first round pick in 2015; hit combined .274/.346/.528 with 25 homers, 33 doubles, 21 steals, 46 walks, 109 strikeouts in 464 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; I doubt he’ll be a true stolen base threat at physical maturity but he could show even more power than he currently does; swing is a tad unconventional to the naked eye but it works; may go with a straight Grade A when all the lists are down and the rankings are complete, right now I like Whitley just a hair better because it is harder to find ace pitchers. ETA late 2018 or 2019.

Minorleagueball had this commentary near the end of the 2018 season:

“2.) Kyle Tucker, OF, Grade A-/A. Age 21, first round draft pick in 2015, mashing Triple-A at .316/.379/.550 with 19 homers, 18 steals, 39 walks, 80 strikeouts in 367 minor league at bats; I don’t think he has much left to learn in the PCL, he just needs at-bats to settle into the Show, stock holding, still elite.”

Since his Sophmore year, Kyle Tucker has “worn” the legacy of being called “Ted Tucker”. Why? Well, his swing looks remarkably similar, to the point that Kyle was actually put in a movie to portray Ted Williams swing. A word of caution, Fangraphs did deep dive the swings and put Tucker’s upside based on swing more in line with that of Paul O’Neil than Ted Williams.

Swing

Let’s look at the swings between him and Ted.

2018 Performance

It’s easily to look at the triple slash line above and make the decision that Kyle Tucker did not have a great season. Honestly, that’s just untrue. Let’s start in the minors.

Minors

In the Minors, Tucker started slow but tore through Triple-A, ending the season with a .332/.400/.590 slash line, with 24 HR, 93 RBI, and 20 SB! (Just to clarify, the batting title went to Davis who hit .342). It’s easy to see that his Minor League season was a resounding success.

MLB

So we reviewed his triple slash line, which I put the caveat that it was a very small sample size. Well what if I told you, Tucker actually hit extremely well, but was just insanely unlucky.

BABIP - .176

BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls in Play. This stat basically in some ways qualifies how “lucky” or unlucky a batter or pitcher was. This doesn’t look into much detail on how the balls were hit, but a quick look on what percentage of balls put in play went as hits. For reference, roughly 30% (.300) of the balls in play should go for hits. Generally players normalize around .300 – but it is affected by quality of contact, speed, etc.

Tucker’s MLB season finished at .176 on BABIP, potentially indicating very poor luck (or poor contact). So we then looked at his expected stats based on actual quality of hits.

Baseball Savant / Statcast have a myriad of stats and tools used to be predictive measures, one of which is their Expected Outcomes (xBA/xSLG/xwOBA) – which they have described as:

“Expected Outcome stats help to remove defense and ballpark from the equation to express the skill shown at the moment of batted ball contact. By looking at the exit velocity and launch angle of each batted ball, a Hit Probability is assigned based on the outcomes of comparable historic balls in play. By accumulating the expected outcomes of each batted ball with actual strikeouts, walks and hit by pitches, Expected Batting Average (xBA), Expected Slugging (xSLG), and (most importantly) Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) tell the story of a player’s season based on quality of and amount of contact, not outcomes.”

Here would be Kyle’s results.

BA - .141 === > xBA - .268

SLG - .203 ==== > xSLG - .382

wOBA - .208 ==== > xwOBA - .326

If Tucker had expected results based on how he was hitting the ball, he would have been a .268/.363/.382. I don’t think any of us would have complained about it.

Tucker’s xwOBA was actually the 4th best on our team, and he showed the largest differential in his expected vs actual in all of baseball.

Going Forward

The 2019 Astros head towards the off-season in a different position than they did last year. Last year, the team was busy setting all-time records offensively that had not been seen since the 1920’s. In 2018, the offense failed to repeat, being solidly above average (110 wrc+) but did not come close to repeating what they had done in 2017. Instead, they came in with the most dominant pitching season I have ever seen, setting both strikeout records and runs allowed records – with both the Starting Pitching and Bullpen being excellent.

2019 will be different, with potential losses of Keuchel, Morton, McCullers (TJ Surgery), McCann, Maldonado, and most importantly for Tucker – Gonzalez.

Going into next year, the Astros have a “hole” in Left Field. Marwin Gonzalez took the majority of the playing time in Left, followed by Tony Kemp. With Marwin potentially leaving via Free Agency, we should look to evaluate if Tucker is ready to take the reigns.

There are plenty of possible scenario’s but I’d like to roll through a few and their pro’s and con’s.

Keep Him

Tucker has all of the ability to be one of the Core team members, engraining himself into our hearts just like Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Springer have done.

If the Astros do not resign Marwin Gonzalez, in addition to his versatility, the Astros lose a key left hand bat in the line up. This is magnified with McCann potentially leaving as well, although Tony Kemp is a south paw as well.

Tucker should be able to play solid defense, especially in Minute Maid Park’s rather small outfield. He has swiped 20 bases as recently as this season, and should provide an average to above average player in all aspects, but let’s focus on his bat.

Tucker will provide us a ton of value considering he will be at league minimum, an important component to note when looking at potential extensions for Bregman, Springer, Correa, Cole and others.

If Tucker can reproduce his results from this year, but achieve the expected outcomes based on Statcast, I think most people would be very happy to pencil him in as our starting LF without any second thoughts.

Trade Bait

Get it.. he’s on the move
Getty Images

Kyle Tucker was ranked as the 10th best prospect by Fangraphs and 11th by MinorLeagueBall to start the season. To put it simply, that holds a ton of value, with him easily being able to be the center piece for nearly any player in baseball.

We do have another potential all-star caliber Left Fielder in Yordan Alvarez, and a solid interim piece in Tony Kemp.

With Keuchel, Morton, McCullers and McCann/Maldonado all potentially not staying with the Astros, there are some significant gaps to fill. Tucker can be the centerpiece for a replacement for any of these key positions in 2019.

Summary

Should Tucker fail, the Astros have Tony Kemp as a solid back-up, who has shown success with the bat, and while eventful – turning routine plays into spectacular web-gem types – solid enough defense. Additionally, Yordan Alvarez is waiting in the wings.

Some of the decision is based on “selling high” if Tucker decides to do his best Singleton impression. I think people’s perspective on this will largely fall in line with their belief in Prospect vs Proven.

I personally think that Tucker will turn the corner and become the star player that we thought he would be. It’s easy to get wrapped up in some very small sample size. With that said, it’s much easier to fill Left Field than it is some of the other positions on the diamond.

Let us know your thoughts! Would you pencil him in at LF next year? Make him play for the spot? Trade him for a player? (And if so – who?)

Poll

What would you do with Tucker if you were Luhnow?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Trade him
    (277 votes)
  • 81%
    Keep him
    (1248 votes)
1525 votes total Vote Now