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
Starling Marte launches a two-run walk-off homer — +.568 WPA
WPA can be really cruel sometimes. Just look at this graph:
Heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, the Angels trailed the Mariners 9-3 and had a 0.2 percent chance of winning. They plated seven runs in that frame, including three off wunderkind Edwin Diaz to walk it off. But because L.A. got the tie and the lead on two different hits — singles from Albert Pujols and Cliff Pennington, respectively — the title for biggest play goes to Marte.
And what a play that was! The Braves led 4-3 through eight innings, before the Pirates tied things up against Jim Johnson in the ninth. Atlanta took the lead again in the top of the 10th inning, leaving Pittsburgh with three outs to work with. On the sixth pitch he saw, Adam Frazier walloped a double off Jose Ramirez, putting the tying run 180 feet away. That apparently irked the pitcher, who decided to reach back for a little more on pitch seven:
Word to the wise: When you’re facing one of the NL’s best fastball hitters, you might want to try an offspeed pitch. Apparently, Ramirez forgot to read the scouting report, and Marte was more than happy to fill him in on what he missed.
Was the Pirates’ comeback the most impressive of the day? Of course not — the Angels pulled off something only one other team has done in the past six years. Where L.A. had a team effort, though, Pittsburgh relied on one star outfielder for its rally. With Andrew McCutchen on the decline, Marte will get more of the spotlight, and plays like this show he’s ready for it.
Yesterday’s best game score
Noah Syndergaard — 75
Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.
Last season, Noah Syndergaard made the transformation from promising rookie to Cy Young contender, but it wasn’t for the usual reasons. His strikeout-minus-walk rate — a remarkably good predictor of pitcher performance — was 23.3 percent in 2016, not too different from 2015. His ground ball rate, on the other hand, took a big step forward, spiking from 46.5 percent to 51.2 percent. Thanks to those worm burners (and some good luck on fly balls), Syndergaard halved his home run rate and became a star.
Where did that grounder spike come from? Syndergaard’s sinker had the highest ground ball rate in his arsenal (59.4 percent), and he started to use that pitch more often, at the expense of his four-seam fastball:
This season, he’s taken that trend to the extreme. On Opening Day against the Braves, Syndergaard threw 44 sinkers to one four-seamer, and yesterday against the Marlins, the ratio was 44:3. He struck out nine Miami hitters and walked none, as is his wont, but the 12 ground balls helped his cause immensely. If Syndergaard continues to tap into his antifa side, he’ll do an even better job keeping the ball in the park, and the sky will be the limit.
That was a whole lot of serious analysis, so let’s wrap things up with two random observations. First, this GIF from Sunday’s game:
Second, this stat: After Sunday, Syndergaard’s 2017 ERA is 0.69. This concludes this portion of the recap.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Salvador Perez — 437 feet
Pitcher reactions to home runs are usually rather entertaining. For the most part, they’ll watch the ball fly into the stands, then pretend in an overexaggerated manner that nothing has happened. Sometimes, they’ll shake things up — whether it’s Lance Lynn throwing his glove like a Little Leaguer or Chris Resop grabbing his crotch like Marshawn Lynch, they’ll try out something a little different.
This reaction, though, is my favorite breed. Lance McCullers knows he’s messed up — in this case, by leaving a center-cut fastball in Salvador Perez’s power zone — and he makes no attempt to hide it. The little throw of the hand indicates profound disgust, and you just know he was shouting profanity at Brian McCann for that pitch call.
In fact, let’s get a closer look at McCullers’s reaction. We’ll zoom in on his face, make the camera grainy, tweak the chyron, put a white tint on the lens to change his jersey color, and turn the uglification meter up a few notches:
Yup, seems about right.
Perez came to spring training in The Best Shape of His Life, and thus far he’s shown it. This round-tripper was his fourth of the season, tying him with George Springer for the most in baseball. He won’t slug .789 for the rest of the year, obviously, but with a little more clout on his swing, Perez — and Royals fans — should get used to anger from opposing pitchers.
- How did Syndergaard flatten the Marlins? While the sinker played an integral role, his changeup was working, too — the cambio induced a swinging strike in six of its 15 appearances. Before the game, Amazin’ Avenue’s Michael Martone gushed over the pitch’s dominance on Opening Day (11 changeups, five whiffs) and wondered just how great it could become.
- The Twins and Royals were two of the worst pitch-framing teams in baseball last year. Kansas City stood pat in the offseason, while Minnesota signed elite receiver Jason Castro to a three-year deal. Thus far, the difference between the two teams is stark. Twinkie Town’s Louie Opatz has GIFs and graphs from last week’s Royals-Twins series; even if you’re not a fan of either team, the hot framing action makes it a must-read.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Chris Sale (3.14 projected ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (3.66 projected ERA)
Over the past 10 years, these are the top 10 AL starters by adjusted FIP:
AL SP leaders — 2008-17
Notice anything about the lists? (Aside from the fact that the 2011 Phillies were insanely stacked?) Lee, Halladay, Greinke, Kluber, Darvish, Verlander, Hernandez, Price, and Scherzer have all won a Cy Young or an equivalent award*. Sale stands apart as the lone pitcher with an empty trophy case, despite an elite six-year run for the White Sox and Red Sox.
*Darvish took home the Eiji Sawamura award, given to Nippon Professional Baseball’s top pitcher, in 2007.
In fairness, Sale has placed in the top six of the Cy Young voting every year since he became a starter. His best shot came in 2014, when he notched a career best in ERA- (56) and tied a career best in FIP- (66). That season, though, an elbow strain kept him out for a month, which limited him to 174 innings and a third-place finish behind Kluber and Hernandez.
Verlander, meanwhile, can relate to Sale’s plight. Rick Porcello robbed Verlander of the Cy Young last year — they had analogous ERA-s and FIP-s, but Verlander (and, for that matter, Sale) had a massive lead in Baseball Prospectus’s DRA. So tonight, the two scorned starters will take the hill in Detroit, ready to battle once more against a couple of stacked lineups. If Sale and Verlander have their mind on their lack of recognition, we could see a rare Red Sox-Tigers pitching duel.