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Launch angles — April 17, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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

Bryce Harper walks the Nationals off — +.828 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

With every story, as they say, there are two sides. Let's break this down from each team's perspective — first the winners, then the losers.

“M-V-harPER”: Nats fans welcome Harper’s walk-off shot vs. Phillies

WASHINGTON — Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper received a hero’s welcome on Sunday, after he clubbed a three-run, walk-off home run in the ninth inning against the Phillies.

“Har-per! Har-per! Har-per!” proclaimed one drunken partygoer. “You the real MVP!”

Harper won the National League MVP award in 2015, a year in which he hit .330/.460/.649 with a 197 wRC+. Following his two-homer game Sunday, his triple-slash sits at .333/.455/.644, and his wRC+ has improved to 190.

Though most fans in the crowd were not aware wRC+ was a stat, they cheered upon hearing Harper was among the major-league leaders, with several deeming it “sweet” and “sick.”

“That’s my boy!” one fan screamed, tossing a drink in the air. “More like M-V-harPER!”

As a group of Phillies fans walking by, another Nats spectator shouted, “WOOOO! How’dya like Haaaah-Puuuh!?” apparently imitating what he perceived to be a Philadelphia accent.

When asked to describe what the win would mean for Washington’s playoff push, the fan hiccuped, then made a sordid remark regarding the reporter’s mother.

“We want Hector”: Phillies fans push for ninth-inning change after Sunday meltdown

PHILADELPHIA — Phillies closer Joaquin Benoit blew a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning Sunday, inflating his ERA to 5.40 and drawing the ire of local fans.

“Where does that Benoit get off?” said one fan, scrolling through Brooks Baseball with his phone while trying to balance a cheesesteak. “Hangin’ a 3-2 fastball to a guy like Harper? You know he slugs .795 on middle-middle heaters, right?”

“The problem ain’t Benoit,” another Phillies fan chimed in. “It’s that son-of-a-bitch [manager Pete] Mackanin, who keeps usin’ this 39-year-old in high-leverage situations.”

Pulling out a grease-covered phone, the fan jabbed his finger at a graph of Benoit’s xFIP. “This guy’s gotten worse for three straight years!” he exclaimed. “And [Hector] Neris is pitchin’ the eighth innings now!”

“‘Proven Closer,’ my ass,” a third fan interjected. “His splitter’s got—” he paused to down his can of beer “—it’s got the ninth-highest whiffs per swing among relievers! Why ain’t Hector your closer?”

Though diverse in their sources cited and levels of inebriation, the fans agreed on one thing: The Phillies shouldn’t wait to make the switch at closer.

“We want Hector! We want Hector!” they chanted in unison, one pausing to vomit in a nearby trash can. “Saves are an arbitrary metric! Put in your best relief pitcher!”

Yesterday’s best game score

Ian Kennedy — 90

GIF via MLB.com

Off the top of your head, which of the following pitchers had the lowest ERA- in 2016:

  • Adam Wainwright
  • Matt Harvey
  • Ian Kennedy

Surprisingly — or not, if you’ve read the subhead — Kennedy led the way; his 85 ERA- also beat the likes of Kenta Maeda and David Price. Kennedy displayed that ability again on Sunday, twirling eight shutout innings against the Angels. On a day when Wainwright, Harvey, Rich Hill, Jon Lester, and Carlos Carrasco took the hill, an unheralded Royals righty outshined them all.

Kennedy’s best pitch, when he’s on, is his four-seam fastball — it was worth 21.0 runs above average in 2016. On Sunday, though, he went more heavy with the sinker, which he tallied 10 called strikes with:

Image via Baseball Savant

That pitch dovetailed nicely with his changeup, which notched five whiffs by living in the lower part of the zone:

The fact remains that Kennedy is, you know, not that great of a pitcher. He had a 111 FIP- last year, one of the highest in the majors, and he won’t be facing a lineup with Ben Revere batting second every week. The good times are nice while they last, though. Against the Angels, Kennedy was king, if only for a day. (I’ll resist the urge to make a Royals pun here.)

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Adam Frazier — 432 feet

GIF via MLB.com

While I’m not the first person to make this observation, it’s relevant here (and I can’t find the original source), so I’ll paraphrase: Even the worst MLB players are worlds above everyone else in pretty much every regard. We all laugh at, say, Yuniesky Betancourt, but he’s still a better hitter, baserunner, and defender than any of us will ever dream of being. After all, how else could he have played in the highest level on the planet?

As a farmhand, Adam Frazier made one appearance in FanGraphs’s prospect rankings, last offseason. Dan Farnsworth slotted him 20th in the Pirates system and gave his power a “30” future grade (as a reminder, the scouting scale is 20 to 80). Baseball Prospectus, meanwhile, never deemed Frazier a top Pittsburgh prospect. For his career in the minors, Frazier put up a .071 ISO in 1,456 at-bats; he just didn’t seem capable of slugging at a professional level.

Know what happens when you serve up a center-cut fastball to a 30-grade power hitter who isn’t capable of slugging at a professional level?

Image via Brooks Baseball

In play, run(s) happens — three of them, to be exact. Justin Grimm might want to remember that he’s not facing a potted plant, and even the slappiest of slap hitters can pounce on a grooved fastball.

SABRy tidbits

  • Get this: The Tigers have a solid team, but their shaky bullpen could be their undoing. Shocking, right? Francisco Rodriguez is one of the biggest problems; he's allowed three runs on eight hits (including two homers) in his five innings. Bless You Boys's Brandon Day doesn't like what he sees from the 35-year-old closer.
  • Mitch Moreland — he of the career 100 wRC+ — has hit nine doubles for the Red Sox, including a streak of seven straight games with a double. Is that just early-season noise? Or can Moreland keep hitting this well? He obviously won't have a 189 wRC+ forever, but Over the Monster's Phil Neuffer thinks he might be a solid hitter.
  • The Yankees seem to have a lot of solid baserunners, from Jacoby Ellsbury to Brett Gardner to…well, those are the only two I can think of. But the numbers don't think as highly of the team's baserunning. Pinstripe Alley's Tyler Norton has more details on that front.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Robbie Ray (3.76 projected ERA) vs. Brandon McCarthy (3.96 projected ERA)

As far as ace pitching matchups go, this one leaves something to be desired. Neither Ray nor McCarthy is the best pitcher on his team; in the case of the latter, he doesn’t even have a secure hold on a rotation spot. Still, Monday baseball is Monday baseball, so while we wait for Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke to get the nod on Wednesday, this will have to suffice.

And Ray and McCarthy aren’t exactly shlubs. The former was severely unlucky last year, and this year his fortune has turned around; through two starts, he’s posted a 2.19 ERA and 3.66 FIP. McCarthy has returned to his sinker/cutter mix after a few years relying on his four-seamer, giving him early results (1.50 ERA, 3.68 FIP) that are similar to Ray’s. For a matchup between the NL West juggernaut and the potential challenger, you could do a lot worse.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.