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
Brad Miller draws a walk-off walk — +.344 WPA
Win probability added has no sense of irony; it looks only at the game state before an action, and the game state after that action, and asks not what that action was. That’s how we end up leading off our daily recap with a GIF of a walk. Stay tuned; the GIFs get better.
But when it comes to measuring pure excitement, WPA is not far off here, or not off at all. The Rays had held onto a slim, 1-0 lead for most of the game; in the 7th and 8th, a tiring Chris Archer allowed two runs to score on some walks and singles. The Rays pulled back to even in the 8th, at which point the game went into the kind of tense holding pattern that often characterizes extra-innings contests. While still tied 2-2, the bottom of the 11th began with a Mallex Smith double, and a sacrifice bunt that pushed him over to third with one out.
John Gibbons proceeded to get gutsy. He intentionally walked Corey Dickerson, which made good sense — Kevin Kiermaier is not a particularly threatening hitter, and it set up the double play. Indeed, it was the rare situation where the walk actually increased the pitching team’s WPA. Things got strange when Gibbons also walked Kiermaier, however, bringing up Rays superstar Evan Longoria with only one out and the bases loaded. There was a good chance that Longoria would hit in the inning anyway, but it was still striking to see two consecutive intentional walks ahead of him.
Even more surprising was the ease with which the young Casey Lawrence dispatched the 31-year-old third baseman, getting a whiff and a foul tip on two consecutive changeups to send Longoria back to the dugout and keep the Jays alive. Everything was set up for Gibbons to look like a genius, but if there’s one thing Brad Miller knows well, it’s his strike zone. Miller, who had already walked twice in the game, offered at the two pitches he saw over the plate, but didn’t chase a single ball, even when the Rays were a single strike away from squandering. This wasn’t a gimme walk; his patience and eye sent the Tampa Bay crowd home happy.
Yesterday’s best game score
Jhoulys Chacin — 77
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.
There were a lot of great starters on Saturday, from Clayton Kershaw to Madison Bumgarner to Zack Greinke. Chris Archer and Aaron Sanchez are the reason Blue Jays-Rays game was still tied in the 11th, as they went toe-to-toe with matching gems. Kendall Graveman had a no-hitter going into the seventh. But none of them came away with the best game score; that honor instead goes to Jhoulys Chacin, who shut out the Giants lineup over 6 2⁄3 innings.
Chacin was good, but more than anything, this might show the limits of Game Score as a metric. His high score was mostly the product of his lack of baserunners, as he allowed only three hits and one walk. But with only five strikeouts on the day, and only six swings and misses, Chacin’s shutout wasn’t the product of raw stuff so much as it was the product of batted balls going to the right spots. Now, it’s not impossible to be a pitcher who is great by limiting the quality of contact he allows, as Marco Estrada shows, but it’s really difficult. The rest of Chacin’s career — a middling 3.99 ERA and 4.06 FIP to go with his paltry 15.6% strikeout rate — is proof of that. But on a night when the bounces went the right way for the Padres starter, the results were outstanding.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Avisail Garcia — 442 feet
Avisail Garcia is not a particularly good player. He has the swing-and-miss tendencies of a true slugger — his 68.6 percent contact rate ranked 9th last season, behind names like Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Carter — but the groundball rate of a slap hitter. In 2016, Garcia hit fly balls only 26.6 percent of the time, compared to 43.3 percent for Stanton and 48.7 percent for Carter. The resulting package is, uh, not great.
But when things line up right for Garcia — when he both makes contact with the ball and doesn’t drive it into the dirt — he can put on a show, as he did Saturday night. After a terrible start by Adalberto Mejia, Twins rookie Justin Haley had kept the Twins in the ballgame with four innings of shut out relief. But by the 6th, Haley had thrown nearly 60 pitches, and he looked like he was starting to flag. The first two pitches to Garcia were fourseamers in on the hands; the third was another fourseamer, but out over the plate, and the White Sox outfielder didn’t miss. I would’ve suggested throwing something offspeed, but he did that on the very next pitch to Geovany Soto, and it also got crushed for a dinger, so I got nothing.
- Over at Camden Chat, Brice Freeman notes that the Orioles regulars tend to exhibit signs of fatigue in the second half of the season, and argues for finding a way to rest them. The Orioles don’t have the deepest bench in the world, but Adam Jones in particular needs some occasional time off. Rest is not a topic that often comes up in April, but it matters throughout the year, and a team that doesn’t start thinking about it until August is doing themselves a disservice.
- Yasiel Puig might be back, with three dingers and four walks to his name in only 24 PA. Yes, it’s only been four games, and yes, we already knew Puig had lots of raw talent, but in Say Hey Baseball, SBNation’s daily MLB newsletter, Marc Normandin points out how unbalanced the NL West would look if the already-excellent Dodgers ended up with the 2013–14 Puig, not the 2015–16 version. Again, only four games, but when combined with the Cuban outfielder’s hot September to end last season, those four games start to look like a reason for optimism in LA.
- It can be frustrating to be a fan of a rebuilding team, and in Philadelphia, where expectations have been moderated all the way down to “functioning baseball team,” tensions are running a bit high after a 1–3 start to the season featuring very little offensive production. But The Good Phight’s John Stolnis has a much-needed reminder of the nature of early-season small samples, and a focus on the process that underlies that 1-3 (now 2–3!) start. The Phillies still have a long way to go, but there are lots of reasons to think 2017 will be more fun and more competitive than 2016 was.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Noah Syndergaard (3.01 projected ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (4.20 projected ERA)
Edinson Volquez was better last year than his 5.37 ERA would have you believe. His BABIP was .319, more than 20 points higher than his career mark prior to 2016, and his 4.57 FIP is reflective of a pitcher who can still get enough done to be valuable. Volquez had a good first start, too, throwing five shutout innings against the Nationals with six strikeouts and one walk. He’s not the reason you’ll want to watch this game, though.
Clayton Kershaw is still baseball’s best pitcher, and will be until someone takes it from him by force. But if you want to see the pitcher with the best stuff, look no further than Queens, where Noah Syndergaard plies his trade. He has an incredible repertoire, starting with his 98mph fastball and running through his 90mph changeup and 93mph slider.
It’s that last pitch that contains the most pure nastiness; in 2016, per Brooks Baseball, it induced whiffs from opposing batters an insane 28 percent of the time. Syndergaard is always appointment viewing; today is no different.