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
Austin Barnes walks it off in the tenth — +.441 WPA
Austin Barnes is partly a victim of circumstance. Were he on many of the other teams in baseball, he’d in all likelihood be entering his second or third season as a starting catcher. He doesn’t have overwhelming power, but he does have at least an average hit tool, patience at the plate, and excellent defense — including pitch framing skills. But alas, we are at least partially defined by our circumstance, and Barnes has had to wait until now — his age 27 season — to consistently show what he can do in the big leagues.
Now on the Dodgers as the full time back up catcher and occasional middle infielder, Barnes did not get the start on Tuesday night. He instead came to the plate as a pinch hitter with one on and two out in the tenth inning to face Daniel Hudson. What made the situation unique was that standing at first base was a pinch runner in the form of Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling, who’d been brought in to run for the slow-footed Yasmani Grandal.
While faster than Grandal, it was still probably going to take a perfectly placed ball in the gap of down the line to score Stripling from first. On the first pitch from Hudson, Barnes did exactly that and smoked a line drive 102 miles per hour off the bat over second baseman Max Moroff. It slowly made it’s way to the wall in right-center field, giving Stripling plenty of time to motor home.
The pitch from Hudson wasn’t bad. A 96 mile per hour, four-seam fastball on the bottom edge and outer third of the zone isn’t easy to drive with authority, but Barnes went down and was able to shoot it the other way. Sometimes as a pitcher you just have to tip your cap, or rub your chin in frustration.
Yesterday’s best game score
A.J. Griffin — 88
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.
On one hand, it’s the Padres; a team ranking 28th in baseball with a collective 78 wRC+. When someone pitches a gem in San Diego there’s a tendency to dismiss it as less of an accomplishment than it would be against a better team in a more challenging ballpark.
On the other hand, it’s A.J. Griffin; a pitcher who’s projected for an ERA of nearly five for the rest of the season. He entered his start against the Padres with a 3.54 ERA and an impressive 21.7 percent strikeout to walk ratio, but it’s going to take more than four starts to prove that Griffin is anything more than a fringe, back-end starter.
Regardless of preconceived notions about Griffin or the Padres, he dominated on Tuesday by throwing a complete game shutout on 104 pitches. Allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out four, he was helped by three double plays. Griffin was able to minimize hard contact by the Padres as no batted ball hit against him exceeded 100 miles per hour.
Despite topping out at 90 miles per hour just once with his four-seamer, since he was opposing Jered Weaver, Griffin was the hard throwing starter of the day. When there’s an average 22 mile per hour difference between your fastball and curveball, with a changeup bouncing around anywhere from the upper 70’s to the mid-80’s, that’s a recipe for keeping hitters off balance.
Believe it or not this is Griffin’s second appearance in this space as he spun a game score of 80 against Oakland on April 18th. Padres or not; well done, A.J. Griffin.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Justin Upton — 454 feet
Justin Upton last played for the Diamondbacks in 2012, but Arizona is where he started his career and became one of the games biggest power threats. Even if there’s no animosity, I’d have to imagine it feels great to hit an absolute rocket home run against a former team that once traded you.
On Tuesday, Upton sent a 95 mile per hour fastball from Tom Wilhelmsen 454 feet to dead center field where it presumably began a new life amongst the cameramen. The ball left his bat at 114 miles per hour and a low 19 degree launch angle; a rare combination, but according to Statcast a home run 100 percent of the time.
Upton reminded Arizona of what he could do and then kindly asked them to keep it down — people are trying to crush dingers over here.
- Hitting for power has never been Lorenzo Cain’s calling card, but he’s still displayed a little bit of pop in his career. After posting a .171 ISO in 2015, that number has been declining fast. Max Rieper of Royals Review investigates where Cain’s power has gone.
- Unlike Cain, Brett Gardner is currently mashing taters with reckless abandon. Over at Pinstripe Alley, Tyler Norton breaks down his power surge.
- Coming off a great start against the Royals, Beyond the Box Score’s own Merritt Rohlfing breaks down the key to Mike Clevinger’s success at Let’s Go Tribe. Hint: it’s not just his luxurious hair.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Wade Miley (4.44 projected ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (3.25 projected ERA)
Wade Miley has been excellent in 2017. He’s the proud owner of a 2.27 ERA, a 3.74 FIP, a 2.10 DRA and a 28.8 percent strikeout rate. That’s the good news. On the other side of the coin sits a 14.4 percent walk rate and a presumably unsustainable 90.2 left on base percentage. The improved numbers coincide with a change in his pitch usage as he’s relying much more heavily on his sinker and slider and less on his four-seam and changeup this season. It’s still early of course, but the change in approach seems to be working.
On the other side of the diamond will be Stephen Strasburg. With a 2.66 ERA, 2.69 FIP, and 2.15 DRA, he’s having a fantastic season despite posting what is by far the lowest strikeout rate of his career.
The declining strikeout numbers coincide with with an increase in ground ball rate however, which helps explain his continued success. Like Miley, Strasburg has changed his pitch type usage this season. In an effort to preserve arm health he’s throwing fewer sliders, instead increasing his changeup and curveball usage. As the season goes on it will be interesting to see if he continues this new path as a ground ball pitcher.
Strasburg is getting it done in a different way this year, but make no mistake, he’s still getting it done. On Wednesday, he’ll try to slow down the Orioles as they go for their third win in this four game Battle of the Beltway series.
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Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrchrisanders.