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Launch angles — April 29, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/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

Starlin Castro sends it to extras — +.474 WPA

This was a bonkers comeback by the Bombers. At the point when Mark Trumbo blasted a grand slam to put the Orioles up 9–1, Baltimore’s win probability was 99.1 percent. When we look at a win probability that high, it’s so easy to round that up to 100, and it’s almost always correct to do so. But 99.1 percent means that about once every 100 eight-run deficits in the sixth inning, there’s a comeback, and tonight was that one. What was craziest to me about the Yankees’ comeback was how long it took; they didn’t have a single explosive inning, but scored three in the 6th, four in the 7th, three in the 9th, and then three in the 10th to walk it off.

Starlin Castro has had a fascinating career. He’s in the midst of his eighth full season in the majors, but is only 26. On the one hand, Castro has been a bit of a disappointment, given how high our expectations tend to be for players who debut while they’re still teenagers. But because he’s so young, there’s always seemed to be the lurking potential for a breakout as he enters his physical prime.

I’m not ready to say that 2017 is going to be his breakout year yet, but through 88 plate appearances, he’s running a 177 wRC+. Maybe that’s the product of luck, not ability, but his blast to left was extremely impressive. He’s part of a Yankees team that (somehow) is extremely likable, a group of young, talented, and very engaging players that are a blast to watch and are very easy to root for. This is a strange new world we live in.

Yesterday’s best game score

Kenta Maeda — 72

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.

Kenta Maeda has not had a great start to the year. Prior to last night, he hadn’t had a single solid outing, never going past five innings in his first four starts and running an ERA of 8.05. But in the 19 innings of those four starts, he had struck out 19 batters and walked only five, so it seemed plausible that he’d get right. The main requirement seemingly was that he keep the ball in the park; he also gave up seven home runs in those first four starts, and that is decidedly not a recipe for success.

Last night, everything came together for the Japanese righty. Across seven full, he struck out eight, walked only one, and most importantly, allowed no home runs. Maeda has a broad arsenal — according to Brooks Baseball, he has six distinct pitches — and he didn’t play favorites last night, throwing each of his pitches at least 10 times and no more than 30. Ty Kelly’s whiff on the fourseam shown above was one of only two whiffs that pitch induced over the course of the night; Maeda’s nastiest pitch was probably the slider, which had four whiffs despite being thrown only 18 times.

That repertoire makes Maeda extremely fun to watch, but he’s also a critically important piece of the Dodgers rotation. Los Angeles probably isn’t too nervous about the three-game lead the Rockies currently have on them in the NL West, but their .500 start has to be somewhat disappointing, and their starting pitching is the most obvious culprit. They entered the season with the best projected WAR, according to FanGraphs’ depth charts, but they’re currently sitting at 9th in actual WAR, and even that placement is mostly thanks to Clayton Kershaw being exactly as good as he’s supposed to be. Getting their supporting cast back on track will go a long way toward righting the Dodgers’ ship, so this most recent start from Maeda has to be extremely encouraging.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Travis d’Arnaud — 455 feet

This was a helluva shot. Most striking to me is how fast it covered those 455 feet; before d’Arnaud even reaches first, this ball has clattered into the bleachers. Scherzer threw a strike that was a bit too juicy, a fastball on the inside half of the plate instead of being inside, and the Mets catcher sent it flying.

d’Arnaud is having himself a good April. He’s already hit four home runs in his first 56 PAs, the same number he hit in 276 PAs last year, and he’s also bumped his walk rate from 6.9 percent in 2016 to 8.9 percent in 2017 thus far. It doesn’t take a lot of offensive ability to provide value as a catcher, given the high defensive demands of the position, but d’Arnaud is also an excellent framer, ranking sixth on Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA leaderboard for 2016 despite getting far fewer opportunities than most of the catchers around him.

Anyways, both those paragraphs were just to fill space with enough real-ish baseball talk so that I could talk about my actual favorite part of d’Arnaud’s home run, and that is Matt Wieters’s look of intense pain and disappointment behind the plate.

I love nothing more than expressive catchers and pitchers. In the same way that hitters should celebrate their most dramatic successes, pitchers and catchers should definitely wallow in their most egregious failures. From the looks of d’Arnaud’s second home run, Matt Wieters agrees with me:

SABRy tidbits

  • Scott Gelman of Fish Stripes has an update on the sale of the Marlins. Apparently, Jeter/Bush don’t have a ton of cash on hand, and Loria doesn’t feel like waiting around. If you want to get really mad for some reason, thinking about how much Loria paid for the Marlins, what he did with them, and what he’s going to get for their sale is a very efficient way of doing so.
  • Christian Bethancourt has been demoted to AAA, and as jbox notes at Gaslamp Ball, while the Padres sort of gave him the choice of going back to catching, it’s clear that it wasn’t really a choice. This is probably what should’ve happened in the first place; regardless of how good a pitcher Bethancourt is, it would’ve been incredibly difficult for him to go straight to the majors. Hopefully some time for him to season in the minors will get this experiment back on track.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Stephen Strasburg (3.16 projected ERA) vs. Zack Wheeler (4.01 projected ERA)

It feels like a new Mets pitcher appears in this space every day. Zack Wheeler is yet another one of the parade of youthful starters the team from Queens is lucky enough to have. While he’s not at the caliber of a Syndergaard or deGrom, he’s still totally passable, especially when he’s your fourth or fifth starter. Wheeler is coming off another start against the Nats, in which he went seven innings and struck out six but allowed four runs on two walks and four hits, one of which was a home run.

But the real reason this is our marquee matchup for the night will be taking the mound in the top of each inning. I talked about Starlin Castro’s strange career, and I feel similarly about Stephen Strasburg’s. Expectations were set impossibly high from the moment he was drafted, and really, he’s done much to live up to those expectations, with over 22 fWAR in his first seven seasons. But there has always been the sense that Strasburg “should” be completely dominant, and he’s never quite achieved that.

He’s only 28, however, so the Strasburg of the past is not guaranteed to be the Strasburg of this season, and so far, the Strasburg of this season looks pretty incredible. He’s already at 1.0 fWAR through just 28 innings, and thus far, he looks totally healthy. Also, he just had his second daughter. Baseball would be more fun with a full season of a totally dominant Strasburg, so here’s hoping tonight doesn’t disappoint.