During spring training play in March 2020 (before the pandemic and the rough negotiations between MLB and the Players Association took 102 games off the calendar), Houston Astros slugger Kyle Tucker was hitless in 16 at-bats.
Manager Dusty Baker then explained that Tucker is a “long-levered” guy, and they tend to take a bit longer to get into a rhythm. It’s a valid theory: the lefty-hitting outfielder got off to a slow start in 2019 (4.5 BB%, 31.8 K%, 105 wRC+ in the first month) and 2020 (64 wRC+ in April).
But once he gets going, Tucker is a really, really good hitter (130 career wRC+) who made enough advances in his offensive game that he is now, quietly, one of MLB’s top sluggers.
In both 2019 and 2020, he finished with wRC+ marks in the 120s (121 and 124, respectively, to be exact). What about 2021? He broke out in a big way, finishing with a 147 wRC+, a .294/.359/.557 line, and 30 home runs. He hit a whopping 70 extra-base hits (37 doubles, three triples, 30 blasts) in just 140 games.
What’s behind his breakout? Well, first, take a look at this beautiful Statcast profile, and you will have (mostly) everything there is to know about Tucker.
But he also made other gains. Not only does he hit the ball hard frequently, but he cut his strikeout rate (from 20.2% in 2019 to 15.9% in 2021, a sizable decrease) and made a lot of contact in the air: his batted ball distribution is fantastic, as he hit 21.7% line drives, 33.9% groundballs, and 44.4% fly balls.
From pulling everything in 2020 (50.6%), he used center field more in 2021 (42.3% compared to his 35.9% pull rate). Not only did he develop power, but he also took a step forward as a classic hitter, too: he posted a career-best swinging-strike rate, with 9.4%, and his contact rate was also the highest mark of his MLB tenure so far, at 82%.
Obviously, a fly ball hitter who makes a lot of contact and hits the ball hard will have lots of extra-base hits to show for it. It’s an ideal recipe: he could have pushed 80 XBH had he played closer to 150 or 160 games.
Kyle Tucker home run! Looks like the Astros are going to the World Series! pic.twitter.com/qVdb175ctE— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 23, 2021
The best part of all is that Tucker just turned 25 and has other things going for him despite his prodigious power: he is speedy (14 stolen bases and many more in the minor leagues), he is a good defender, and he actually underperformed a bit in 2021 (.383 wOBA, .400 xwOBA).
We spend most of our time talking about Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Ronald Acuña Jr. Shohei Ohtani, and Juan Soto. And for good reason: maybe Tucker isn’t in that league yet. But make no mistake: he is not far off, and he may still have another gear in him.
For some reason, he gets less than half of publicity and recognition than those players. But Tucker is now one of MLB’s best young sluggers and more complete hitters.
Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13