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Launch angles — April 6, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros
Is this finally the year?
Photo by Bob Levey/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

George Springer brings the Astros back from the brink — +.833 WPA

GIF via

If you’re a fan of baseball in the Lone Star State, you’ve never seen a World Series victory. While the Rangers and Astros have combined for three pennants — all this millennium — neither has managed to go all the way. Generations of spectators in the second-biggest state in the nation have come and gone without knowing the sweet taste of a title, the packed parade, the overpriced merchandise, the "where were you when"s.

Texas (the franchise) came notoriously close back in 2011, when not once, but twice, it found itself one strike away from a championship. David Freese — and, to a lesser extent, Lance Berkmandidn’t let that happen. That Game 6 has become a World Series legend, and the semi-masochistic namesake for ESPN Sweetspot’s Rangers blog.

Last night, in its third game of the regular season, Houston had a similar situation. After four straight walks in the top of the 13th — no, really, it was like something out of Major League — the Mariners had taken a 3-2 lead. In the bottom of the frame, with two outs, two on, and a full count, George Springer decided he didn't want to give in. He launched a changeup into the seats in left field, spoiling Chase De Jong’s major-league debut and giving the Astros the walk-off.

That blast won’t end the Texas title drought alone (nor will it put a rest to that stupid SI cover); still, it gets Houston to 3-0 and puts the team first in the AL West. The journey to a Fall Classic win begins with a single comeback — so it was for the Cardinals, and so it may be for the Astros.

Headline from October: Astros bottom out, Athletics make a World Series run

Yesterday’s best game score

Brandon Finnegan — 87

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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.

Last night, two southpaws posted the following stat lines, each pitching for a red-themed team against a Pennsylvania-based club:

Pitcher A: 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 7 K

Pitcher B: 7 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 9 K

If you asked this morning’s Sportscenter viewers what pitcher had the best game last night, they’d likely point to Pitcher A — Chris Sale. In his Red Sox debut, the lefty mowed down the Pirates lineup, although he received a no-decision in the team’s 13-inning victory. Boston paid a king’s ransom for Sale, and if Wednesday was any indication, the club got its money’s worth.

Sale, however, didn’t have the best Game Score of the day. That honor went to Pitcher B: Brandon Finnegan, who dealt fire against the Phillies. His four-seam fastball was on — he threw it 56 times and got 12 whiffs, which makes Aroldis Chapman look like Mike Pelfrey — and he kept the ball on the ground 69.2 percent of the time, which I feel obligated to mention. Philadelphia could do nothing but flail against the Reds starter, who let the crowd know how he was feeling.

GIF via

Not my preferred style of celebration, but better than chopping up jerseys, I suppose.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Nomar Mazara — 439 feet

GIF via

Like their brethren in Houston, the Rangers played a game with an incredible comeback last night. Unlike the Astros, Texas was on the receiving end of that comeback, thanks to an epic ninth-inning grand slam from Francisco Lindor. But we’re focusing on the first few innings, and not the horrid Rangers bullpen, so let’s talk power.

We’ve done this daily recap four days now. Three of those days, the longest home run has come from a Rangers player: Carlos Gomez took Corey Kluber 462 feet deep on Monday, Joey Gallo smashed a 443-foot bomb off Carlos Carrasco on Tuesday, and Mazara clubbed a Danny Salazar sinker into the cheap seats on Wednesday. This team can hit the crap out of the ball, and if things go right, it just might surp—

What’s that, you say? The Rangers are 0-3? Sam Dyson has faced 12 hitters and allowed eight runs? Adrian Beltre is still on the DL?

Texas will bounce back from here, of course; both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus project it to have a winning record the rest of the way. But this team has some serious flaws, and it can’t ride one-run magic forever — certainly not with a relief corps this terrible. So Rangers fans, enjoy the dingers as much as you can, because the AL West champion threepeat? Not gonna happen.

Headline from October: Rangers surge past Athletics and Astros, end the Texas title drought

SABRy tidbits

  • Do you think Zach Britton deserved to win the AL Cy Young last year? If you do — and given that you’ve read the blurb about the Astros comeback — you probably based your thinking on WPA. That’s not a perfect metric for determining a player’s value, though; as BtBS alum Sky Kalkman explains for The Hardball Times, the metric doesn’t take into account the ever-important replacement level.
  • Jose Quintana and Tim Anderson epitomize, roughly speaking, the past and future of the White Sox. The former will probably play for another team by the end of the year, and the latter signed a six-year contract extension last month. While both of them struggled on Opening Day, one’s performance was more worrisome than the other. Jim Margalus has more over at South Side Sox.
  • Ted Williams was a pretty good hitter. As such, he was none too fond of the pitching folk — he said they pitched because “they can’t do anything else” and generally derided their intelligence. Let’s Go Tribe’s Merritt Rohlfing thinks Tyler Naquin has taken advantage of that, uh, deficiency. (It’s an interesting argument, to say the least.)
  • The new Statcast pitching data may be a bit suspect — I’ll again link to Dave Cameron’s superb piece at FanGraphs — but with regards to pitch movement, it’s worth wondering what trends we can uncover from the first game or so. Camden Chat’s Alex Conway is keeping an eye on Kevin Gausman’s four-seam fastball, which was moving effectively against the Blue Jays on Opening Day.
  • Alex Gordon came up as a third baseman; despite a great arm, he sucked. Then the Royals moved him to left field, and after a few growing pains, he won a few Gold Gloves on the strength of that cannon. With the news that Kansas City will try him in right field, Royals Review’s Matthew LaMar is thrilled to see how his arm will play.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

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

We’re at the point in the schedule where each rotation has churned through its top few starters, and now the backend guys get their time to shine. For the Giants, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Matt Moore have already taken the hill; for the Diamondbacks, Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin (for whatever reason), and Taijuan Walker have gotten the nod. Now the ball falls to Samardzija and Ray — two dependable pitchers in their own right.

Samardzija had a rough go of it two years ago; he experimented with the cutter, yet unlike so many White Sox hurlers before him, he couldn’t quite get the pitch down. Despite his 4.96 ERA, San Francisco handed him $90 million over five years, apparently hoping the 2014 version was still in there somewhere. Samardzija certainly seems to have put 2015 behind him, putting up a 3.81 ERA last season and helping the Giants nab a Wild Card spot.

Ray, meanwhile, had a weird 2016. He put up a 4.90 ERA, a 4.04 DRA, and a 3.76 FIP, which translated to 0.7 rWAR, 2.6 WARP, and 3.0 fWAR, respectively. As Sam Miller wrote in a wonderful post for ESPN, Ray pretty handily encapsulated the dispute over player valuation:

[B]aseball is not something we've cracked, and Robbie Ray is a good reminder that, until we do, we're all still staggering, out of the darkness but blinded by too many lights. It isn't a matter of whether that's a good thing or a bad thing; it's just a thing. Be grateful you aren't the general manager of a team that has to make hundred-million-dollar decisions in this era.

So do you want to bet on the well-coiffed righty with money in the bank, or the hungry lefty with everything to prove? It’s not the marquee matchup we saw earlier in the week, but both pitchers can hold their own — they’d each be the staff ace of the Reds (with all due respect to Finnegan). A pretty solid way to wrap up a four-game series.

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.