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Launch angles — Apr. 11, 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 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

Jay Bruce homers and the Mets take the lead — +.403 WPA

Jay Bruce started his week right, and with his second longball of the day, broke the tie between the Mets and Phillies and put New York ahead, 4–2. We’ve had a lot of walk-offs in this space, for fairly obvious reasons, but most of those walk-offs were the product of some gradual momentum. On Saturday, for example, Brad Miller’s walk-off walk was the finishing touch on a gradually developing rally, which had already seen the Rays’ win probability creep up toward 1.0. That wasn’t the case here; with two outs and a runner on first in the top of the eighth, the Mets were slight underdogs by win probability. Bruce changed that in a hurry.

Bruce’s first home run of the night came against Jered Eickhoff, and saw the Mets outfielder do basically what he was hired to do. The current perception of the 30-year-old is that he’s not a great fielder (the defensive metrics particularly disliked his 2016) and that he’s an atrocious hitter against lefties (he ran a 77 wRC+ in 2016, compared to a 124 wRC+ against righties). The expected result is a flawed-but-useful package, a player who can play a passable right field and mash against righties like Eickhoff.

The homer off Joely Rodriguez represents something different and surprising, as Rodriguez is a lefty. To be fair, this was a heck of a mistaken pitch, a slider that hung up in the middle of the plate and that Rodriguez almost definitely wanted back even before Bruce sent it for a ride. Prior to a knee injury in 2014, Bruce was a more well-rounded player both defensively and offensively, with a reputation (backed up by the numbers) as an excellent defender and a much greater ability to hold his own against lefties (100 wRC+ in 2012, 99 wRC+ in 2013). It’s possible this was nothing more than Bruce taking advantage of a bad pitch. It’s also possible that Bruce’s knee is finally fully healed, and that he’s on his way to regaining his all-fields, balanced approach of 2012–13 that served him well against both lefties and righties. The Mets are obviously hoping for the latter.

Yesterday’s best game score

Michael Pineda — 84

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.

Michael Pineda has been a source of frustration to a lot of people, in a lot of contexts. For Yankees fans, there’s always been a gap between his velocity/stuff and the actual results when he’s on the mound (as the large and persistent gap between his DRA and RA9 indicates). For Mariners fans, he’s a reminder of a doozy of a trade, in which then-top prospect Pineda was sent to New York in exchange for also-then-top prospect Jesús Montero, and which Seattle would surely take back if they could. But last night, the only people frustrated by Pineda were the Rays hitters, who he utterly dominated over 7 23 innings of outstanding pitching.

After carrying a perfect game into the seventh (broken up by a two-out double by Evan Longoria), Pineda’s final line was a thing of beauty: two hits, no walks, eleven strikeouts, one home run, one run. All his pitches were working, but it was his slider that was truly lethal. Pineda turned to the pitch 36 times over the course of the afternoon, and of the 19 swings it induced, only 8 made any sort of contact. In other word, nearly a third of his sliders went for swinging strikes. As it turns out, that yields pretty good results.

It was a flash of dominance by Pineda, and the kind of performance that he’s seemed capable of for each of the last four years. The Yankees would go on to win 8–1.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Mark Reynolds — 417 feet

Year One of the Mark Reynolds in Colorado Experience was a bit of a disappointment. Reynolds power had steadily declined since his 2009, when he hit 44 home runs for the Diamondbacks, and given that he can’t really play anywhere but first base at this stage of his career, he needed a true resurgence to be a valuable player. Instead, he was unimpressive both on the park-adjusted front (a 99 wRC+) and on the raw front (14 home runs).

Year Two, however, is off to a much better start. In 32 plate appearances, Reynolds has already mashed four taters, which he didn’t do last season until June 12th. Of course, this is still a minuscule sample size, and it’s not like this kind of performance from Reynolds is unprecedented; last year, over seven games and 30 PAs from June 20th to June 26th, Reynolds hit four home runs, and it’s not as if that heralded a return to his old slugging ways. Nonetheless, it’s a nice start.

There was a lot of optimism on display before and during this home run. The home broadcast team was recounting the specifics of Sunday’s incredible and improbable Angels comeback, presumably in hopes that the Rockies could do the same. A chyron at the top of the screen announced that only four more runs were needed before “we” (?) were gifted with free tacos, a particularly unlikely event given that it was the bottom of the 9th, and the Rockies were only down by two runs at that point. Tragically, there would be neither an improbable comeback nor free tacos. Baseball can be cruel sometimes.

SABRy tidbits

  • Rebuilding teams often collect young players, even those without much prospect pedigree, in the hopes that some of them will turn into unexpected stars. The Phillies have stumbled upon just such a player in the form of Jered Eickhoff, who has taken a major step forward in the last year. As Ethan Witte at The Good Phight points out, he’s the kind of player every team would love to have, rebuilding or not.
  • At Over the Monster, Matt Collins advocates for the Red Sox to shift either Andrew Benintendi or Mookie Betts to center field while Jackie Bradley Jr. remains out. Messing with their routines might seem iffy, but despite all of Steve Selsky’s other merits, sticking him in center is decidedly subpar. The Red Sox have an outfield staffed by three center fielders, basically; they might as well use them.
  • Michael Wacha had a fine debut outing, throwing six innings of one-run ball and also displaying a new pitch. Joe Schwarz of Vivo Los Birdos goes deep on what Wacha’s sinker is and what it might do for him.
  • The Twins are not going to maintain their .833 win rate for a whole season, but Twinkie Town’s myjah says that the hot start is a sign of progress in Minnesota. Given how poor 2016 was for the Twins, that progress is both easily obtained and sorely needed.
  • Our own Rob Rogacki covered Justin Verlander’s excellent start against the Red Sox for Bless You Boys, noting his transition over the course of the afternoon from changeup to curveball as he realized the former wasn’t working and the latter was. It’s the kind of savvy adjustment that 34-year-old pitchers have to make if they want to stay successful.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Robbie Ray (3.68 projected ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (3.68 projected ERA)

Ray and Samardzija have totally different career trajectories, making their matching projections somewhat amusing. Ray is widely viewed as a starter with the potential to make a big leap forward, as his 4.90 ERA last season masked a very good 3.76 FIP, a product of 218 strikeouts in just 175 innings. If the Diamondbacks can be competitive in the near future, it’ll be the product of Ray and other youngsters like him making big strides.

Samardzija, on the other hand, is probably best remembered by many as the player who Billy Beane overpaid for back in 2014. He’s still chugging along, however, and has turned out above-average seasons for each of the last five years. Samardzija’s first start of 2017 was inauspicious, as three home runs will tend to do bad things to your team’s chances of winning. His nine strikeouts and two walks over 5 13, however, were a lot more promising. Tonight looks to be another good matchup between Arizona and San Francisco.