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Launch angles — May 13, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Cincinnati Reds v San Francisco Giants Photo by Jason O. Watson/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

Buster Posey decides he’s had enough of extra innings — +.427 WPA

The long death-slog of a game is entirely unique to baseball in the entire sports world, and while there are lots of bad things about it in the moment, I firmly believe that MLB is better without a tie rule or some other cap on the number of innings that can be played in a single game. The pain that is created over the course of a seventeen-inning game is an excellent source of solidarity and pathos. The joy of the Giants fans, the grim satisfaction of Posey after making contact, and the morose disappointment of the Reds players are all perfect parts of a baseball game. Games like this shouldn’t happen often, certainly, but having a few each year is a great thing.

Don’t get me wrong though; this was, in all likelihood, a miserable experience for everyone involved. This game ended at 3:43 AM eastern time. That is very close to being long enough for people to watch the first pitch, fall asleep, and wake up at their normal time of day to see the game still ongoing.

It’s fascinating to think about how the players themselves must feel. Posey was on his seventh plate appearance of the game, and had caught each of the 269 pitches thrown by the Giants staff over the course of the game. To be able to still hit a home run after that kind of effort is incredible. Posey remains the league’s undisputed best catcher, a superstar on offense and defense. After being placed on the concussion DL earlier this season, he’s returned with no signs of any lingering effects, and is currently in the midst of an incredible offensive stretch, running a .364/.442/.556 triple slash and a 169 wRC+ on the season thus far.

Yesterday’s best game score

TIE

Matt Shoemaker — 75

Lance McCullers Jr. — 75

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.

I believe this is our first official tie in this part of the recap! Shoemaker threw six shutout innings, with seven strikeouts, one walk, and three hits, while McCullers threw six shutout innings with seven strikeouts, no walks, and four hits. Nearly identical and excellent lines.

For Shoemaker, his dominance was primarily the product of his nasty splitter (pictured above making Nick Castellanos look foolish), which racked up seven whiffs over the course of the night. Since an adjustment Shoemaker made after a rough start to 2016, he’s thrown the splitter more than any other pitch, and more than any other starter. He’s drawn comparisons to Rich Hill and his curveball-heavy repertoire, and last night, Shoemaker showed why and how it works for him.

McCullers has a similar approach, in that he throws his curveball more than any other pitch. Last night, he threw his fourseamer 32 times and got zero whiffs, but threw his curveball 37 times and got nine whiffs. With numbers like those, it’s no wonder that McCullers emphasizes the curve. The righty has always felt like “the other pitcher” on the Astros, behind Dallas Keuchel, and he hasn’t yet thrown 130 innings in a season. But McCullers is only 23 (which stunned me; I feel like he’s been around forever, but he debuted in his age-21 season), and he’s currently sitting on a walk rate of 6.6 percent for the season, a huge step forward from his career figure of 10.1 percent. Last night was yet another very good start for him, and he’s well on his way to a career year.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Brandon Moss — 457 feet

The 33-year-old Moss has looked pretty close to washed up to begin 2017, with an abysmal 54 wRC+ (and that’s including this home run, his fifth of the year). His BABIP of .178 is extremely low, so this might simply be the product of his hits not finding holes, but his strikeout rate is even higher than it usually is, at 37.2 percent, and his isolated power of .190 is also worse than expected. But even if Moss is in his decline stage, it seems like he’ll be able to crank huge dingers like this one forever; it’ll be what comes between the home runs that make him sink or float.

At first glance, this wasn’t a terrible fasball from Bundy, either. True, he missed his spot badly — Joseph was set up at the top of the zone, and this pitch ended up at the bottom — but it was still a strike, and not a grooved one. The problem is that, unlike the high pitch that was called for, Brandon Moss loves himself a low pitch:

Brandon Moss might be getting older, but he can definitely still crush a mistake pitch that’s left squarely in his happy place.

SABRy tidbits

  • The Braves’ last winning season was 2013, when they made the playoffs and lost the NLDS to the Dodgers. Since then, they’ve been in that hazy period known as “rebuilding,” but Eric Cole of Talking Chop rightly points out that 2017 should be the last year in which Atlanta can ignore their on-field product. Fans increasingly accept some periods of intentional losing, but teams should absolutely be pressured to keep those periods as short as possible.
  • At the beginning of the season, we all noted how Zack Greinke’s velocity was down, and wondered if this was the beginning of the end for the 33-year-old righty. Instead, he’s recovered from a couple of poor starts with a string of excellence, and as Michael McDermott breaks down at AZ Snake Pit, it’s been all about his secondary stuff.
  • Yonder Alonso of the A’s has been one of the biggest happy surprises of the season, and Alex Hall analyzes his success for Athletics Nation. It’s been a big surprise, in that it’s been surprising, but it’s also been a big surprise, in that Alonso is not just breaking out but breaking out so hard. As Hall notes, his 2017 slugging is higher than his 2016 OPS (on-base plus slugging). That’s nuts!

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Chris Sale (2.91 projected ERA) vs. Blake Snell (3.89 projected ERA)

On the one hand, maybe this space should feature more variety. Almost every week, we end up concluding that Chris Sale is the pitcher you should be watching, nearly regardless of who he’s facing. Today, if he was going up against a slightly worse pitcher, we might suggest that you watch Jon Lester (3.37 projected ERA) face off against Carlos Martinez (3.51 projected ERA) instead, and that matchup is certainly a respectable one. On the other hand, Sale has been completely and utterly bonkers to start his tenure with Boston, and so maybe him repeating every week is a sign that this space is working as intended. You really cannot go too wrong if you make a point of watching Sale pitch at every possible opportunity.

But his opponent tonight, Blake Snell, is no slouch himself. The Rays are almost like the Mets of the AL, in that they seem to have an endless supply of young pitchers with gobs of potential. Snell is yet another member of that group, and was called up after the Super Two deadline last year, so that the Rays could squeeze another year of service time out of him without paying anything extra. He acquitted himself quite well, ending the season with 89 innings in the big leagues and a 3.54 ERA/3.39 FIP. His 12.7 percent walk rate was concerning, however, and Snell’s 2017 isn’t off to a better start in that regard, as he’s currently at 13.4 percent through 36 13 IP. He’s an interesting pitcher, and does an admirable job of holding up his end of this exciting matchup.