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Launch angles — April 27, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks
I’ll resist the urge to repeat the lame arrow/bomb joke.
Photo by Norm Hall/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

Ryan Schimpf puts the Padres ahead — +.624 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Why shoot an arrow when you can launch a bomb? You see, it’s funny because Fernando Rodney likes to do that one thing, where he pretends to have a bow and arrow, but here he does that other thing, where he blows the save… okay, this bit sounded funnier in my head. Let’s take this blurb in another direction.

Heading into Wednesday’s game, Schimpf had put 36 balls in play, with an average launch angle of 35.3 degrees. Without context, that doesn’t mean much, so let me put it this way: No other hitter with 30 balls tracked by Statcast hit the ball higher. Schimpf doesn’t just hit fly balls — he hits towering fly balls, moonshots that take several seconds to touch back down.

This approach cuts both ways. On the one hand: While Schimpf had a prosperous debut last year — putting up a 129 wRC+ for the offense-hungry Padres — his BABIP languished at .260. This year, his wRC+ has plummeted to 71, thanks to a .088 BABIP (not a typo) that actually went down after last night’s game. When a hitter skies the ball that high, he gives opposing defenders a lot of time to line it up, and that’s ended up costing Schimpf.

On the other hand: That is one sweet home run. It’s not even that long for a long ball, yet its high arc makes it a sight to behold. David Peralta hardly moves in right — he knows this thing is into the seats. Schimpf has a boom-or-bust strategy, and last night when the Padres needed him, it went boom.

Yesterday’s best game score

James Paxton — 81

GIF via MLB.com

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.

Mercy, this Paxton fella is good. He’s made five starts this year for the Mariners, and allowed zero runs in four of them. (He gave up five runs in the other start, but no one bats 1.000… or pitches to a 0.00 ERA, I suppose.) Two of his shutout starts came against the Astros, who have the fourth-best wRC+ in baseball at 116. On Wednesday, he sustained that momentum against the Tigers and their 118 wRC+, scattering four hits and a walk across seven innings.

When I wrote about Paxton earlier this year, I focused on his knuckle curveball, which he’s leaned on more often this year. It’s a potent out pitch, with the ability to induce both whiffs and soft contact. At his heart, though, Paxton is a fastball pitcher — since the start of the 2016 season, only three other pitchers have thrown more heaters than him. Against the Tigers, he threw four-seamers everywhere:

Image via Baseball Savant

Eighty-four of his 116 pitches were fastballs, and he made those heaters count. The four-seamer recorded 66.7 percent strikes, 15.5 percent calls, and 17.9 percent whiffs. Paxton recorded five of his nine strikeouts with his fastball, and two of those Ks came without any secondary pitches whatsoever:

Image via Brooks Baseball

After dominating yesterday, Paxton has a 1.39 ERA and 1.09 FIP in 32 13 innings. Even if we regress to fit his rest-of-season projections, he’d finish the year with a 3.18 ERA and 3.03 FIP over 181 13 frames. The Mariners have always accumulated top pitching prospects, and now one of them is actually amounting to something.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Corey Seager — 462 feet

GIF via MLB.com

I’m a tad peeved at Seager, because I had a blurb all planned out for Avisail Garcia, who mashed a 451-foot tater in yesterday’s White Sox-Royals game. He’s a pretty bad player overall, and he’s having a fluky, high-BABIP-driven breakout in 2017 that bears a resemblance to the criminally underrated Robert De Niro film The King of Comedy. It would’ve been a great blurb — legendary, even — but Seager had to go and ruin it.

Then again, it’s his birthday, and he’s also one of the best and brightest young stars in baseball (who doesn’t play for the Red Sox or Yankees), so I can’t hold a grudge. Here, he tied for the longest home run of the season with Joey Gallo and Carlos Gomez, each of whom has come up in this recap before. Seager, though, makes his first appearance — and for good reason.

Johnny Cueto was cruising through five innings against the Dodgers; so was Alex Wood on the other side. Seager worked the count full leading off the sixth inning, before Cueto tried to catch him looking with a four-seamer down the middle:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Not a terrible pitch — up near the letters, where Seager goes a little cold (relative to the rest of the strike zone, at least) — but in this case, it backfired pretty spectacularly. Seager upped his batting line to .317/.387/.537 with this four-bagger; his 152 wRC+ is even better than the 137 that won him the NL Rookie of the Year in 2016. Garcia would’ve been king for a day; Seager’s reign will last quite a bit longer.

SABRy tidbits

  • The Mariners have long been one of MLB’s more hapless franchises, and 2017 is no different — the club is 9-13 and last in the AL West. But another Seattle-based organization has flourished as of late, becoming a global superpower. Are the fates of the two intertwined? Lookout Landing’s Kate Preusser and Zach Milkis aren’t saying they aren’t.
  • How is Mike Matheny as a manager? Subpar, is the short answer. Continually grounded in a bygone era and basing key decisions on outdated wisdom, is a longer answer. Viva El Birdos’s Ben Godar has a quality rant about the Cardinals skipper’s failure to get with the times.
  • The Royals offense sucks! Royals Review’s Max Rieper already provided some unsightly stats to drive home that point, and now he’s back for round two, with a look at how the team has hurt itself by becoming more aggressive.
  • After missing pretty much the entire 2016 season, Michael Brantley has made his comeback this year, and in sterling form — he’s hit .318/.384/.561 over 73 plate appearances. Beneath that triple-slash, though, lurks the potential for regression. BtBS’s Merritt Rohlfing breaks down the numbers over at Let’s Go Tribe.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Masahiro Tanaka (3.85 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.99 projected ERA)

Red Sox-Yankees games are four-hour slugfests where no pitcher can record an out and every plate appearance lasts ten pitches — or so goes the old stereotype. This year, though, both teams actually have solid pitching staffs: Each of them ranks in the top 10 in both fWAR and RA9-WAR. Those arms were on display last night, when Luis Severino bested Rick Porcello for a 3-1 Boston win.

In terms of watchability — i.e., efficiency — Sale and Tanaka are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Since coming to the U.S. in 2014, Tanaka has averaged 25.1 seconds between pitches, the fourth-slowest among qualified pitchers. Over that same span, Sale has the 10th-fastest average pace, at 19.3 seconds.

Speed notwithstanding, these are two front-of-the-rotation pitchers. Tanaka has struggled in 2017, with a 6.00 ERA through four starts. But beneath that, he’s put up the highest whiff rate and lowest hard contact rate of his career, indicating he should start to keep some runs off the board. Sale, meanwhile, has remained every bit of the ace the Red Sox traded for. If these two veterans can pitch like Severino and Porcello did, we’ll have another prompt New York-Boston battle — and that’s something to treasure, no matter your fandom.


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.