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Launch angles — April 25, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Minnesota Twins  v Texas Rangers Photo by Brandon Wade/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

Brian Dozier clears the bases — +.324 WPA

Brian Dozier is so good. He’s off to a somewhat slow start to the season — his 2-for-5 night against the rangers brought his wRC+ just above average, to 102 — but he’s one of the only parts of this Twins team that is consistently worth watching. It’s him and Miguel Sano, basically, with perhaps Byron Buxton too if you can stand the pain of watching a top prospect struggle so mightily, and Max Kepler if you’re Carson Cistulli.

Beyond those players, the Twins are a pretty bad team without much of a plan to get better at any point in the near future, and for that reason, I found myself surprisingly happy when Minnesota didn’t trade Brian Dozier this offseason. Reportedly, the Dodgers offered them top pitching prospect José de León, who ended up going to the Rays in the Logan Forsythe deal instead once the Twins chose to hold onto Dozier for the beginning of the season. Was that a good idea? Maybe, maybe not; prices for players do go up at the deadline, but it could be that none of the playoff hopefuls are in need of a second baseman, or that those who are can’t meet the Twins’ price. Minnesota is taking a risk, to be sure.

But it means that Brian Dozier will play in Target Field for at least a few more months, and it means that the Twins will win a few more games than they would otherwise. Behind Dozier on the Twins’ depth chart is Eduardo Escobar, probably, and while he’s also sort of interesting in his own right he’s unequivocally not as good as Dozier. It feels like there’s often a sense among the analytical baseball community that as soon as a team has no shot at making the playoffs in a given year, they should pull the trigger on a rebuild immediately. But even the universe of non-playoff baseball seasons can be split into better and worse seasons; one where the Twins win 78 games and Brian Dozier puts on a show for the first half is better than one where the Twins win 64 games and are barely worth watching. There’s a real cost to rebuilding, even when a team is already bad.

Brian Dozier is great. I’m glad he’s on the Twins. This was a good pitch at the bottom of the zone and he drove it to the gap. With two outs and the Twins down by two, most outcomes lead to the inning ending with the Rangers still in the lead, which is why this play had such an impact on the game.

Yesterday’s best game score

Miguel González — 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.

Miguel González is probably not going to be part of the next great White Sox team, but as with Dozier, he’s a player I’m glad Chicago has chosen to hold on to, because it makes their season substantially more bearable. They probably could’ve traded him away for some number of “prospects,” the lottery-ticket kind of players who are the usual return for a mediocre player with only a year or two left on his contract; González is coming off of a decent season (2.7 fWAR, 1.7 WARP) and is probably better than the fourth or fifth starters of a number of playoff contenders. Instead, he’s on the White Sox, which means they get to benefit from his occasional moments of excellence like last night’s.

The 32-year-old righty spent the night pitching to contact, and it worked. Over his eight innings of work, González garnered only nine whiffs, and struck out just five batters over the course of the night. But he also walked only one batter, and gave up just two hits, which is a recipe for an excellent start. Part of the reason González has been so volatile in his career is because he gives up a lot of fly balls, and while most fly balls turn into outs, the ones that don’t tend to be quite painful for the pitcher who gives them up.

González can get some strikeouts, though; as the clip above shows, he’s got an enormous arsenal — per Brooks, he’s thrown five different pitches at least 10 percent of the time in 2017, plus four changeups — and can strike batters out on any number of different offerings. I found the running fourseamer to Sal Perez to be particularly pleasing, aesthetically, though I am also a sucker for a well-placed fastball just above the top of the zone.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Ryan Zimmerman — 426 feet

It’s okay if you’re ever-so-slightly underwhelmed by this shot; it’s the third-shortest longest home run of the day this year. It is still enormous, just not quite as enormous as we’ve grown used to, so after admiring it briefly, let’s talk about Ryan Zimmerman.

Ryan Zimmerman is coming off an extremely poor year, in which he hit .218/.282/.370 and “accumulated” -1.3 fWAR for the Nationals. (Do you accumulate lost value to a team?) It’s therefore been a bit of a shock (in the most pleasant way possible, for Nationals fans) to see Zimmerman come roaring out of the gates in 2017. Through 68 plate appearances, he’s hitting .387/.441/.774, and while he certainly won’t sustain that level of performance for the whole season, he’s already generated 1.1 fWAR, almost matching his negative total from 2016.

His resurgence is curious, because there’s no indication that he’s changed his approach from last season at all. His plate discipline numbers in 2017 are almost identical to his figures from 2016, and his walk and strikeout rates are virtually unchanged.

Zimmerman’s plate discipline

Season Swing% Contact% Zone% BB% K%
Season Swing% Contact% Zone% BB% K%
2016 43.7% 77.5% 44.6% 6.2% 22.3%
2017 44.6% 78.4% 44.6% 7.4% 23.5%

The biggest difference is that Zimmerman is just getting millions of extra base hits this year — an ISO of .387, compared to .152 for last season — but that doesn’t seem to reflect a higher rate of balls being driven.

Zimmerman’s quality of contact

Season Hard% Avg. EV Avg. EV (FB/LD only)
Season Hard% Avg. EV Avg. EV (FB/LD only)
2016 34.7% 93.3 95.8
2017 39.1% 91.8 98.2

In other words, Zimmerman’s 2017 looks mostly like his 2016, except that his wRC+ is four times as high. It looks at least possible that the problem with Zimmerman’s 2016 was simply bad luck. Back in December, Jeff Sullivan wrote an article that looks incredibly prescient for FanGraphs, noting that, based on how hard he hit the ball, 2016 Zimmerman had one of the largest gaps between his expected slugging on fly balls and line drives and his actual slugging on fly balls and line drives. We’re still figuring out how to use all the information Statcast provides, but Jeff’s analysis seems like it might be a new way of stripping out a certain kind of bad luck a player might experience. Exciting!

SABRy tidbits

  • Hot takes are flying over the Orioles-Red Sox dustup. Manny Machado tried to murder Dustin Pedroia! Matt Barnes retaliated like an idiot! Dustin Pedroia is a bad teammate for not taking responsibility for Matt Barnes’s dangerous idiocy! (That last one is real, somehow.) But as is true whenever there are unwritten rules involved, Grant Brisbee has the definitive take. It basically boils down to “don’t throw a baseball at a batter’s head.” You wouldn’t think that would be controversial, but you would be wrong!
  • The Tigers aren’t off to the fastest start, but they’ve kept pace with Cleveland to stay at the top of the AL Central. Their hitting has been good-but-not-great, though as Jeff Roberts points out at Bless You Boys, they’ve been spraying the ball with authority all over the field, and it seems likely that they’ll see their results improve with some more time.
  • Dansby Swanson is off to a cool start, but Brad Rowland at Talking Chop has a reminder that prospects often go through these kinds of bumpy stretches, especially after their initial honeymoon period in the majors. Players like Swanson don’t get where they are without being able to make adjustments, so it’s probably just a matter of time until he gets back in stride.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Ty Blach (4.13 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.41 projected ERA)

Well dangit. We were lined up for a Kershaw-Bumgarner face off, and instead we get a Kershaw-Blach... butt off? Whatever the less exciting version of a face off is. It is certainly less exciting; as Devan Fink went over on Saturday, Blach has some huge shoes to fill, and he won’t be coming anywhere close. I don’t mean to be cruel; he’s fine. But he’s neither great nor particularly young or exciting, which puts him pretty far down the list of pitchers I want to make time to watch.

I’m talking a lot of crap about tonight’s best pitching matchup, but that’s only because I know you’ll all still watch it for Kershaw alone. Yes, a Bumgarner-Kershaw clash would’ve been fantastic, but Kershaw himself is fantastic, and he’s always a good reason to watch a baseball game. The Dodgers lefty has been in this slot so many times already, through less than a month of the season, that I really don’t know what to say if you’re not already convinced to watch every game of his you possibly can. He’s just so good. His strikeout rate minus his walk rate from 2016 beat all other pitchers by a wide margin, and would have ranked 5th among pitchers with at least 140 innings if it was his strikeout rate. He’s the current undisputed king of pitching, and he should be appointment viewing.