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Is It Time to Start Worrying About Kyle Tucker Again?

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Let’s look.

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

When 1st round, 5th pick overall, Kyle Tucker first hit the big leagues in 2018, many among us cried BUST right away. He slashed .141/.236/.203. in his introduction to big-league pitching. Lots of grounders into the shift. Move on.

In small samples in 2019 and 2020 he quieted the critics a bit, hitting .268/.323/518. Ok, maybe he’ll be alright after all.

But this year the numbers look a little too much like 2018’s. At the time of this writing, (4/24)they are .162/.190/.365, with a wRC+ of 54.

Are the 2018 and 2021 versions of Kyle Tucker the real ones, or is the 2021 Tucker hitting into some small sample bad luck.

Simple answer. Tucker has been extraordinarily unlucky so far this season.

Longer answer. There are some significant changes to his hitting profile, but if his underlying contact rates continue, there’s no reason to think his results shouldn’t regress upward over time.

Is Tucker unlucky? Let’s start with the most obvious stat, batting average on balls in play. (BABIP) .300 is about average. Tucker sits at .136. Abysmal.

Well, maybe he’s just not hitting the ball hard, or maybe he’s still just hitting grounders into the shift.

Let’s look at the not-hitting-the-ball-hard first. Here is Tucker’s Statcast batted ball profile.

In almost every statistic above this is the profile of a well-above-average hitter. And for the most part his profile this year is in line with the good Tucker of 2019/2020.

His barrel % is 11.1, career average 9.2. Exit velocity, 90.5, career average 91. Statcast’s hard-hit % is listed at 44.4, career average 45.2. His expected batting averages, slugging and WOBA are actually at career highs, .273, .544, and .351 respectively. Compare the xWOBA of .351 to actual WOBA, .235.

The biggest glitch in the data above is a lack of plate discipline. His chase rate and base on balls % are near the bottom of league averages. And yet is K% is a respectable 16.3, below career average.

Whereas the 2018 Tucker was often criticized for grounding into the shift, hitting 49% of his batted balls on the ground, and 43.1% of his batted balls were pulled, since then Tucker has learned to spray the ball more, and no better than in 2021.

In fact, if anything, Tucker’s problem is 2021 is hitting too many flies.

49.2% of his batted balls are flies, the highest of his career, and his infield fly % is above career average at 12.9%. His launch angle is at a career-high, 21.5%

Meanwhile, his grounder rate is 36.5%, below career average, but so is his line drive %, at 14.3%.

Tucker, often criticized in the past for being pull-happy, is only pulling 30.2% of his batted balls, (44.9% career wide) while taking 41.3% up the middle, and 28.6% to the opposite field.

It looks like Kyle has done everything we asked of him back when he debuted in 2018. Hitting the ball in the air more, and hitting to all fields. While continuing to hit the ball hard and avoiding strike outs.

So far, the results have not been there.

It’s baseball. Keep it up Kyle.

(Editors note: The Statistics for this article are based on performance before the Saturday game on 4/24. On Saturday Tucker had two hits including a home run. (admittedly, off the Angels’ left-fielder)