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Launch angles — October 2, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The MLB season lasts has lasted (!) half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring.

Yesterday’s biggest play

Maikel Franco kicks off the Phillies’ rout — +.251 WPA

Win probability sort of breaks down when you’re on game number 162, and the playoff picture has been fully decided. Nearly none of these games made any difference to anything — the one exception being the Tigers’ and Giants’ “fight” for the worst record and the top draft slot in 2018 — so they tended to feel a bit like exhibition contests; a bit of Spring Training in October. Making a big deal out of the ebbs and flows of those games feels a bit silly. But! We’ve done this section for 183 consecutive days; we won’t let a little thing like “meaningless” stop us.

This was an absolute rocket by Franco. This is a fun archetype of home run, in my opinion: the line drive shot hooked around the foul pole. This ball left Franco’s bat at an impressive 105.3 miles per hour, and though it landed several rows back in the left field corner, it travelled only 387 feet, thanks to a 19 degree launch angle. This shot opened up the Phillies’ scoring, but it didn’t stop anytime soon; New York ended up losing their final game of the 2017 season in fitting fashion, shut out by an 11-run margin.

This was Franco’s 24th home run of the year, putting him one short of his 2016 total. It’s been a strange year for the Phillies infielder, with his power staying stable (a .175 ISO, versus a .177 for his career) as well as his walks (6.6 percent versus 6.6 percent) and his strikeouts (15.2 percent versus 16.1 percent). But Franco ended the year with a 76 wRC+, the product primarily of a .236 BABIP. The projections are optimistic about his ability to get things on track next season — ZiPS projects him for a 90 wRC+, Steamer a 104 — and this home run was a way for this season to end on a high note.

Yesterday’s best game score

Blake Snell — 91

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance, and recently updated by Tom Tango. The score begins at 40, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, runs, and home runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

Blake Snell sliced and diced through the Orioles’ lineup yesterday, racking up thirteen strikeouts in just seven innings versus two hits, no walks, and no runs. Nor was this the product of a Baltimore lineup of September call-ups and minor leaguers; with Schoop, Machado, Mancini, Trumbo, Davis, and Hardy starting, this might not have been the best possible Orioles starting nine — Tim Beckham is missing! — but it was fairly close. That didn’t stop Snell at all.

In an even 100 pitches, Snell had an astonishing 24 whiffs, spread evenly across his four pitches. He pounded the zone with his fourseamer, and while he ran it above the zone occasionally (for four whiffs), it was his slider and changeup that fooled hitters so thoroughly (as displayed in the GIF above). He threw them a combined 37 times, and generated a whiff on a remarkable 46 percent of them. And when the Orioles did manage to put the ball in play, Snell consistently kept it on the ground — with six grounders and just one fly, there was really nothing the O’s could do.

Baseball Savant

Snell wrapped up his sophomore season on a high note, though the season itself was mixed. With a 4.04 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 4.29 DRA, no metric leaps off the page as the mark of a great starter. The process by which Snell reached those marks was strange, too; after striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings in the minors, and 9.9 major league batters per nine in his rookie year, his strikeout rate this season plummeted to 7.8 batters per nine. And his walk rate, which as always been high, didn’t go through a corresponding drop, staying at an hefty 4.34 per nine. Control seemed to be his main issue in 2017, and he had control in spades on Sunday afternoon. The Rays lefty displayed his prodigious upside to close out the year, and gave Tampa Bay something to dream on for 2018 and beyond.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Mike Marjama — 435 feet

Who is Mike Marjama? An investigation:

  • He’s spent time with three organizations: the White Sox, the Rays, and most recently, the Mariners;
  • While he’s already 28 years old, this was just his fifth major-league game, and saw him check off plate appearances seven through nine of his career;
  • He hasn’t displayed much power through his minor-league career, with just a .139 ISO and 37 home runs in 1919 PAs;
  • He hit this ball a very long way.

I’ve never heard of Marjama, and I don’t think that’s a product of my own idiocy. He appears to be one of those players who toils away in the minors for most of their careers, without ever making much of a splash. He’s certainly not the age that most successful MLBers tend to debut at. But he made the most of his opportunity on Sunday, sending this first pitch fastball from José Álvarez for a ride to deep center field.

More likely than not, Marjama will never make an impact in the big leagues. He might never get another major league PA again; even if he does, it seems unlikely that he’ll become a mainstay of either the Mariners or any other club. But by playing in these five games, Marjama has earned himself lifetime healthcare from MLB, no small feat. And by hitting this very large home run, he’s earned himself a heck of a memory, too. Not many people can say they hit a huge dinger in an MLB park. Even if he never plays another game beyond this tail end of the 2017 season, Marjama should feel proud.

SABRy tidbits

  • On the SBNation baseball main site, Marc Normandin has a breakdown of the infamous Matt Holliday slide into home to beat the Padres and send the Rockies into the 2007 playoffs. If you’re not familiar, the basic gist is that the Rockies were in the midst of an incredible chase for the NL West title, closing a huge gap between themselves and the Padres in the final weeks of the season. They ended the year tied, and played a 163rd game to determine who would advance. In the ninth, on a double to deep right, Holliday hustled home as the winning run. While he beat the throw, and while the catcher didn’t receive the throw cleanly, repeated replays make it look like Holliday never actually touched the plate. Marc’s takeaway: replay is good, because it keeps things like this from happening and ending critical games in incorrect fashion.

Here’s my counter-take, however: there’s no guarantee that replay would’ve actually corrected this error. We still can’t be totally sure that Holliday didn’t touch the plate, because there’s no camera angle that shows the play totally clearly. The most likely outcome, had replay existed in 2007, would’ve been an awkward pause followed by a verdict of “not enough evidence to overturn.” And even if the play did get flipped, it would’ve only been after a delay of several minutes at the moment of maximum tension in this incredibly important game. I’m not sure I could design a bigger anticlimax than winning via replay reversal in a Game 163. I’m sure that, at some point in these playoffs, replay is going to play a big role. I’ll be watching closely, to see what it adds in accuracy and what it subtracts in drama.

Tonight’s Tomorrow night’s best pitching matchup

Ervin Santana (4.70 projected ERA) vs. Luis Severino (3.71 projected ERA)

Out of all the many, many pitching matchups for you to choose from on Tuesday night, we humbly suggest this one as the best. Of course, there’s only one game to watch Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get you hyped up for it. Even if it wasn’t the only game on TV, and even if it wasn’t a single-game playoff that would see one team’s season prolonged and one team sent home, this would be a pitching matchup worthy of your attention.

Ervin Santana’s projected ERA is ugly, but his actual ERA this season was an excellent 3.28, his DRA was a very good 3.70, and he’s undoubtedly the best Twins pitcher. He puts the ball in play a lot, and gets a lot of outs when doing so (a .245 BABIP against), so there will be a lot of opportunities for excitement in this critical game. If Minnesota is going to go on a miracle run through the playoffs, Santana will play a huge role, starting tomorrow.

Luis Severino also has a much better 2017 ERA than his projection (a sterling 2.98), but rather than being a product of less-impressive peripherals, it’s purely his lack of experience that leads to doubt in the projections. Severino’s peripherals have been just as excellent as his run prevention — a 29.4 percent strikeout rate, a 6.5 percent walk rate — and he’s looked like a legitimate ace in 2017. He’ll be a crucial part of the Yankees’ long-term future, and for the immediate future, too. Starting pitching is a big part of playoff success, and Severino gives the Yankees a real leg up. IT’S ALL HAPPENING, EVERYONE. Enjoy the playoffs! Launch Angles will return Wednesday morning.