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Houston Astros: What to expect from Kyle Tucker in 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 23: Kyle Tucker #30 of the Houston Astros at bat against the Washington Nationals during a Grapefruit League spring training game at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 23, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 23: Kyle Tucker #30 of the Houston Astros at bat against the Washington Nationals during a Grapefruit League spring training game at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 23, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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What should the Houston Astros expect from Kyle Tucker in 2021? The projections and analytics project an All-Star caliber player.

The Houston Astros struggled to hit consistently throughout the 2020 regular season — but you certainly can’t blame Kyle Tucker for any of that. The highly touted 1st round prospect finally broke through last year, playing at a borderline All Star-level while helping Houston weather the storm to reach the playoffs. Tucker showed that he belongs in the league as an every-day outfielder. So what can the Astros expect from the young hitter in 2021?

With the prospects of losing both George Springer and Michael Brantley, Houston will need Tucker to carry some serious offensive and defensive production. There’s a hole in the No. 1 and 3 spots in the lineup, both of which might require Tucker’s services. However, judging by Tucker’s rate of improvement last year, a promotion to those spots may be just what the doctor ordered.

In 2020, Tucker hit .268/.325/.512 with 12 doubles, 6 triples, 9 homers, 42 RBIs and 8 stolen bases in his first stint of everyday play. With that consistent spot in the lineup, Tucker got more comfortable with big league pitching and his production increased at a rapid rate. In the last 36 games of the regular season, Tucker was scorching hot, hitting .317 with an OPS of 1.005 while batting 6th or 7th in the lineup.

Tucker will turn 24 in January and seems to be primed to make another jump. There are lofty expectations for Tucker (heck, it’s hard not to when he swings the bat like Ted Williams), which might be tough going into his sophomore season. Pitchers tend to figure out hitters tendencies and may lead to an adjustment period in slump form. As an unwavering Kyle Tucker stan, I refuse to believe he’ll hit that proverbial sophomore slump in 2021, but let’s see with the numbers say.

What the Numbers Say

According to FanGraphs ZiPS Projections, Kyle Tucker should have a similar campaign to 2020. The projection calls for him to hit .265/.334/.487 with 30 doubles, 27 homers, 95 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. This is under the assumption that Tucker will play 144 games and get 596 plate appearances, which seems fair given Tucker is young and doesn’t have history of nagging impeding his availability.

The ZiPS projections also assumes Tucker will have a walk rate of only 8% and a strikeout rate of almost 23%, the latter of which being a considerable jump from 2020. His overall WAR projection is a 3.5, which in sabermetric terms means Tucker projects to be a “good player” just under All-Star level. But enough of the analytical numbers. What can Astros fans reasonably expect from Kyle Tucker?

Modest Improvement from Tucker

I’m usually not bullish with a favorable .268 BA & 25 HR-25 SB projection, but I think Tucker could easily exceed those numbers.

These FanGraphs projections look at sample sizes from an entire year, and don’t consider in-season game-by-game improvement. As mentioned before, Tucker ripped through the last 36 games of the regular season hitting well over .300 with an OPS was north of 1.000. During that time, Tucker’s strikeout rate dropped under 15% and his walk rate above 10%, which would indicate improved plate discipline from Tucker compared to the early part of the season. If you apply his second half of 2020 strikeout rate (15%) to his 2021 projected at-bats, that leads to 40 less strikeouts. That’s 40 more ABs of offense production potential – lick those lips, Astros fans!

So now let’s temper expectations – there’s a good chance those last 36 games last year might have just been an extended hot streak, and that low strike-out rate & high OPS may not be sustainable (yet). And although Tucker had a great 2020 season, he has never played an entire 162 game season as an everyday player. Those dog days of summer in late July and August have killed many a hitter’s batting averages and Tucker may not be an exception.

But I write again: .317 and 1.005 OPS in the final 36 games last year. That’s a big hearty sample size of plus-All Star level production I know all Astro fans are hoping to get from Tucker the next decade.

It’s unfair of course to expect 162 games of that All-Star type production from Tucker right away in 2021. So, let’s just hope for some modest improvement. Tucker is an incredible young talent that has plenty of productive years ahead of him. He may never put up the gaudy power numbers that Yordan Alvarez can, but Tucker has shown all the tools and ability to be a plus level All Star player in this league for a long time.

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