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Launch angles — May 11, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals
Unpredictability has two sides.
Photo by Matt Hazlett/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

GIF via MLB.com

Matt Wieters walks off against his former team — +.462 WPA

They — referring to Bernie Horowitz — say you can’t predict baseball. Sometimes, that refers to the game in a broad sense; for example, few people expected the Orioles to have one of the best records in the majors a third of the way through May. Other times, it pertains to a specific instance, where a player or team did something that didn’t fit (a) their reputation, (b) the odds of the situation, or (c) both.

Last night’s Orioles-Nationals game falls into that last category. The Baltimore bullpen has long been its strength, and Brad Brach one of its most valuable contributors. When he entered the contest in the ninth inning, he had a 2.41 ERA and 2.90 FIP, while his team possessed a 6-4 lead and a 90.8 percent chance of victory. Those numbers would change considerably by the time the night was done.

Jayson Werth led off the inning with a home run; in classic Werthian fashion, he waited until the 11th pitch of the at-bat to line the ball into the right-field seats. Bryce Harper followed up with a double, and an intentional walk and a single loaded the bases with one out. That brought Wieters to the plate against the team that drafted him. On the first pitch he saw, he lined a two-run single into right field, completing Washington’s comeback.

The win was a welcome one for the Nationals — their first victory in this year’s Battle of the Beltways. Even Dusty Baker was rather enthused:

GIF via MLB.com

On the flip side, this loss came as a surprise for the Orioles. Who would have thought the vaunted bullpen would give up five runs while recording only 10 outs? Who would have thought Brach would have by far the worst outing of his career, and his ERA and FIP would rise by more than a run? And who would have thought the golden boy would wreak this havoc? I won’t repeat the old expression, but, well, you know.

Yesterday’s best game score

Chris Archer — 89

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.

Gotta feel for the Rockies, man. (Just in general, you gotta feel for them, but here in particular.) Against the defending World Series champion Cubs, German Marquez pitched the game of his life. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning — no small feat in Coors Field — and finished with three hits and a walk allowed over eight shutout frames. But that translated to a Game Score of 88, which means he’ll play second fiddle today.

Archer gave up no runs over eight innings, too. Where Marquez struck out eight hitters, though, Archer fanned 11 of the Royals he faced. His slider was working all night, and the pitch had the variety of movement he usually seeks from it:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Of the 41 sliders Archer threw, 33 (80.5 percent) went for strikes, and 14 (34.1 percent) went for whiffs. If his slider maintained those clips over a full season, it would lead the majors in each regard. Together with his reliable fastball and occasional changeup, that gave him three weapons to attack Kansas City with.

So don’t worry, Rockies fans. Your team — along with the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Orioles, and Phillies — hasn’t yet had a starter on this section of our recap, but your time will come. Maybe Jon Gray makes his ace-dom heard loud and clear, or Antonio Senzatela harnesses his electric stuff, or Tyler Anderson just gets a ton of ground ball outs. Whoever pulls it off, this exuberance…

GIF via Giphy

…will soon be yours.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Mark Trumbo — 461 feet

H/T to Austin Yamada for GIFing.
GIF via MLB.com

Sometimes, you can predict baseball. Trumbo’s stumbled out of the gate this year — his .239/.287/.358 triple-slash is not what the Orioles expected when they gave him $37.5 million in January — but he still has some of the most formidable raw power in the game. When Stephen Strasburg tried to sneak a first-pitch slider by him, he pounced:

Image via Brooks Baseball

While the blast was the 11th-longest of the year in the major leagues, it ranked third for Baltimore. That’s the problem with playing on the same team as Manny Machado — he’ll upstage you not once*, but twice. If Trumbo returns to the slugging ways of 2016, though, he’ll clobber enough home runs to make it onto this spot a lot more often.

*My intrepid colleague Henry Druschel gave this slot to Travis d’Arnaud’s inferior, 455-foot long ball. Henry.........do better.

Meanwhile, this four-bagger was part of an uncharacteristic meltdown for Strasburg; the Nationals starter gave up five runs in six innings, requiring the aforementioned comeback to escape the loss. While he’s had some trouble with long balls in the past, he’s trended in the right direction over the past couple of years. Hopefully this doesn’t mark a trend, and he goes back to running 90-mph first-pitch sliders down the gut.

SABRy tidbits

  • As a player, Mike Matheny didn’t accomplish much — except hit in the clutch. Well, kind of, if you measure it a certain way, with a given cutoff… you know what, just read the really interesting article John J. Fleming wrote at Viva El Birdos.
  • Baseball fans tend to like the extremes — players who hit for a ton of power, or run really fast, or play phenomenal defense. Guys like Jose Ramirez, who do everything pretty well, sometimes fall through the cracks. BtBS’s Merritt Rohlfing wants to change that.
  • Jonathan Schoop has always been extremely aggressive at the plate, but this year he’s taken it down a notch. The result? A career-best 139 wRC+. Camden Chat’s Alex Conway breaks down the specific changes Schoop’s made to his approach.
  • Mitch Moreland is also having an uncharacteristically great year at the plate, and he’s also changed his approach. His evolution, though, is a little more complicated, as Over The Monster’s Matt Collins explains in greater detail.
  • With all that positivity, we need a negative take — not every interesting trend is for real, right? Wily Peralta’s strikeout rate has spiked this year, but it’s not something that’s likely to continue. Since his ERA is 5.30, as Brew Crew Ball’s Kyle Lesniewski lays out, that’s a really bad sign.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Gerrit Cole (3.61 projected ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (3.68 projected ERA)

Both Cole and Greinke had superb 2015 seasons; they finished fourth and second, respectively, in the NL Cy Young voting that year. Likewise, each of them struggled in 2016, with their ERAs ballooning considerably (Cole’s from 2.60 to 3.88, Greinke’s from 1.66 to 4.37). And this year, they seem to be back on track, with respective ERAs of 3.14 and 3.09 heading into tonight’s contest.

Although the pitchers have some key distinctions — Greinke is older and throws softer; Cole is a young flamethrower — they’ve become a bit more similar this year. Each is throwing the same five primary pitches:

Cole vs. Greinke — 2017

Pitcher Fourseam Sinker Curve Slider Change
Pitcher Fourseam Sinker Curve Slider Change
Cole 40.4% 16.9% 10.3% 18.5% 13.7%
Greinke 44.2% 8.1% 8.8% 25.7% 12.8%
Data via Brooks Baseball

Greinke is prioritizing his slider a little bit more this year, while Cole is mixing in his changeup more often to keep hitters honest. Both start from the same foundation, though, which should make the Pirates-Diamondbacks game an interesting one for both sides.


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.