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Launch angles — October 5, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

National League Wild Card Game - Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The MLB season lasts 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

Archie Bradley rips a two-run triple — +.160 WPA

MLB.com

This was, somehow, one of four triples the Diamondbacks hit in their victory over the Rockies. But this was not only the most impactful on Arizona’s odds of winning, but also the most surprising, coming as it did from the pitcher’s spot in the order. Prior ot this game, Archie Bradley was a career .098/.097/.098 hitter, good for a negative-66 wRC+. But perhaps the Rockies were a little too at ease with Bradley at the plate; this year, in a highly reliable sample of four plate appearances, his triple slash was .250/.250/.250, with his wRC+ rocketing upward 89 points to a 23.

It’s moments like this that prompt all of us to talk about how we could get a hit against major-league pitching if given enough chances. That in turn prompts another half of all of us to talk about how that’s crazy and how pitchers, despite their discomfort with hitting, are world-class athletes who we could never hope to match. Now, usually I fall into the second category. But look at Archie Bradley legging out this triple. Is this the baserunning of a world-class athlete?

He has absolutely no idea what to do with his arms.
MLB.com

This triple took the Diamondbacks from a precarious 6–5 lead to a more comfortable 8–5 as they moved into the 8th inning. And it’s a good thing, too, as Bradley promptly gave up two solo home runs to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story in the top of the 8th, putting the score at 8–7 and the game back within reach of the Rockies. As a pitcher, Bradley cost the Diamondbacks .004 WPA; as a hitter, he added .160 WPA. The beauty of the Wild Card games is their unpredictability, and this lived up to the billing.

Yesterday’s best pitching performance

Robbie Ray

MLB.com

Archie Bradley has been the Diamondbacks’ relief ace this season, and a very good pitcher. So much of the internet was a bit grumpy when Robbie Ray entered the game in relief of Zack Greinke to start the 5th inning. Ray is probably the Diamondbacks’ second-best starter, and with the NLDS looming soon after this game if Arizona did manage to hold on, his relief appearance probably meant he would be unable to start game one.

But at the time, it wasn’t clear that the Diamondbacks were actually going to be able to hold on. Yes, they could’ve turned to Bradley, but as I just mentioned, Bradley wasn’t exactly dominant. Arizona needed 5 13 innings of relief last night, and using a starter in relief in an attempt to be cautious about how you managed those innings doesn’t strike me as a bad idea.

And once Ray hit the game, he pitched very well: 2 13 innings, three strikeouts, no walks, two hits, and one run (which scored as Jorge de la Rosa’s inherited runner). Against just eight Rockies, Ray racked up an impressive nine whiffs. And the bearded lefty seemed to take his role as reliever seriously; while he normally uses his curveball and slider pretty evenly to supplement his fastball, Ray went almost exclusively with the classic reliever fastball/slider combo last night. It worked well for him, and we ended up with another reason to think that almost every starter is better at pitching than almost every reliever. Thanks to Ray, the DBacks held on, and we’ll certainly get to see him in his natural role of starter soon enough.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Nolan Arenado — 424 feet

MLB.com

I was listening to this game on the radio, and the sound — or more accurately, the lack of sound — after this home run (and Story’s home run in the very next plate appearance) was unbelievable. It felt like the Diamondbacks fans had seen a ghost, some apparition of their own demise that they were powerless to change. It was easy to imagine how it would all unfold: a couple of dingers, a thwarted attempt at a comeback by Arizona, maybe even some extra innings for maximum heartbreak. You could almost hear the game stories being rewritten up in the press box, the astonished recaps being written in neutral cities, the elation and despair in Colorado and Arizona respectively. Of course, none of that came about, as the Diamondbacks were able to hold off the Rockies without much drama. But in the wake of this monster smash from Arenado, that outcome didn’t seem very likely.

It was probably obvious that Archie Bradley was not exactly right last night. But in case you needed more evidence: Bradley threw 247 knuckle curves on the 2017, and only one went for a home run. The reason was mainly that he located it well, keeping it out of the zone and, when it was in the zone, out of the middle of the zone:

Baseball Savant

But the knuckle curve Bradley threw to Arenado was not well-located. It hung right in the middle of the zone, and Arenado crushed it.

Coors Field is the stadium with the reputation for big offense. But Chase Field is nearly as inflationary, and I’m glad that one of them remains in the rotation. Monster dingers are extremely cool, and a stadium that enables them is a good thing.

SABRy tidbits

  • 2016’s playoffs were dominated by a series of multi-inning relief aces, pitchers who would traditionally be relegated to the closer’s spot and were instead used early and aggressively by their respective managers. Whether that trend carries over into 2017 remains to be seen, but at Over the Monster, Matt Collins argues that the Red Sox need to be flexible and aggressive with Craig Kimbrel. The mark of a good modern manager is not just wanting to use this kind of strategy, but being able to sell his players on them; we’ll see what to think of John Farrell after this ALDS.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Chris Sale (2.92 projected ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (3.79 projected ERA)

These two pitchers have been frequent guests of this section throughout the season, so I don’t feel like I need to introduce them very much. Verlander is certainly a former ace at this point, though still very good; Sale is at or near the peak of his ace-dom, and possibly about to win his first Cy Young. More important to them than what titles they’ve earned, I’m sure, is how this afternoon’s game goes. But predicting that is pretty much impossible. FanGraphs has a tool that estimates who is more likely to win a game, based on their projections for the pitchers and hitters, and well:

FanGraphs.com

This is gonna be a doozy.