Ranking the Astros Most Deserving of a Contract Extension
By Alec Brown
1) Kyle Tucker
If you can answer to the nickname "Ted," you can hit the baseball. If you're known as "King Tuck," you're royalty. If you're Kyle Tucker, both of these things are true.
The Astros right fielder is one of the elite players in the game, and if the Astros don't lock him up now, they may regret losing him more than any other piece of this era. Tucker is about to play himself into a $30-$35 million AAV player by this time next year. Houston needs to ensure he's an Astro for the future before he plays himself out of their budget.
King Tuck had a phenomenal 2022 season, racking up 5.2 bWAR on the back of 30 home runs, 107 RBI, 25 stolen bases, an .808 OPS, a 128 OPS+, 13 defensive runs saved and a Gold Glove.
Tucker doesn't get cheated at the dish, constantly squaring up the baseball. Back-to-back years he's finished in the top 10% in xSLG. He finished 2022 in the 89th percentile in xWOBA after finishing in the 94th in 2021. With a lineup as deep as Houston's, he is a lock for 100 RBI each year.
His numbers this year were already tremendous. What Tucker does next year may very well resemble a season of MLB the Show played on the easiest difficulty. Tucker was given the nickname Ted when rising through the Astros ranks because he resembled Ted Williams from the left side of the plate. With the shift going away in 2023, he may very well rival some of the numbers his namesake racked up.
Kyle Tucker recorded 66 outs on ground balls/line drives into the shift in 2022, second most in baseball. It's not fair to say those automatically become 66 base hits, but if even 30 become singles, Tucker bats .313 with a .913 OPS.
Tucker stepped to the plate 605 times in 2022. He faced a shift in 550 of them, the 16th highest percentage in the game, and recorded a .336 wOBA when shifted. A .336 wOBA for the season would place Tucker in a tie for 77th in the game. By all means, a good big league hitter, but not the special one we know Tucker to be.
It is no secret the shift unfairly punishes lefties (lefties that consistently put the ball in play like Tucker, Corey Seager and Jose Ramirez that is). An MLB team simply can't position their shortstop in shallow left field to take away the would be singles off the bat of a righty that they can against a left-handed hitter.
With the shift going away, no player in baseball should see a bigger jump in their numbers than Tucker. In the 55 plate appearances in which Tucker was not shifted, he recorded a .463 wOBA. For context, Aaron Judge and his 62 home runs led baseball with a .458 wOBA.
Obviously the elimination of the shift won't give Tucker 32 more big flies, but it likely will give him plenty more singles and doubles. Gone will be the days of the 113 mph "groundout" on a one-hop into shallow left.
Am I saying Kyle Tucker becomes the best hitter in baseball with the banning of the shift? Not entirely. But I think it's entirely possible he puts up numbers that place him in the top-five hitters in the game.
He's already an All-Star and he's already the best defensive right fielder in the game. If/when Kyle Tucker hits .315 with 35 home runs and a .930 OPS, the photoshops will begin making the rounds of Tucker in Yankee pinstripes or Dodgers blue.
He's arbitration eligible for the first time this year and Houston has three years of team control left. If he isn't locked up this offseason, its' entirely likely he prices himself out of what Houston has been willing to spend on their homegrown talent.
The Astros cannot afford, no pun intended, to let the sweet-swinging lefty get anywhere near sniffing unrestricted free agency. Locking Kyle Tucker up long-term should be mission number one for the Astros' front office this year.
With that bat in the heart of the order for the next six-to-eight years, the "Golden Era" of Astros baseball may trend into the "Golden Generation" of Astros baseball. Keep the window open for another decade. Extend Kyle Tucker this offseason, whatever it takes.