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Launch angles — May 14, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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

Bryce Harper celebrates his new extension — +.435 WPA

We often feature two home runs in the daily recap — one, a walk-off that was the biggest play, and the other in the biggest homer slot — and sometimes, the first just isn’t up to the standards of the latter. It’s a home run, and it determines the outcome of the game, but it sneaks over the wall, or takes advantage of a park’s friendly dimensions. This was not one of those. It was not the longest home run of the night, but at 438 feet, it could’ve been the longest home run of a good number of nights. And beyond just distance, I find this home run very aesthetically pleasing; a blast almost perfectly straightaway to center that somehow managed both to be towering and to exit Nationals Park with all haste. It was a good home run, not just an impactful one. (It was impactful, too. The Nationals had already tied the game, all the way back in the 5th, so Harper wasn’t in a score-or-go-home situation, but he did keep the game from going to extras when nothing but an extra-base hit would’ve done so.)

I think my favorite thing about this clip, aside from the home run itself, is Aaron Altherr’s run up to the wall and dejected walk away. I don’t think of myself as a cruel person, but the dejected reactions of the players on the receiving end of a walk-off give me great joy. It’s not so much that I’m happy that they’re sad, but that I’m happy that they can be sad about baseball. It’s good that baseball, a dumb game played in pajamas, engages even the professionals so much that they sometimes feel like crap. It makes my own moments of dejection feel a little more understandable. Plus, more prosaically, it is really funny to watch the Phillies infielders exit as fast as they can while Harper chases them away.

Yesterday’s best game score

Jose Berrios — 81

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.

This was Berrios’s first major-league start of 2017, after he made his debut last year with a stint of fourteen starts. This start was easily the best of his short career; Berrios never made it into the seventh in 2016, and allowed one or zero runs only once. Last night, he did both, throwing 7 23 innings of one-run ball, with four strikeouts, one walk, and just two hits.

On the one hand, it’s possible to downplay the excellence of this start by focusing on Berrios’s low strikeout total, and on the luck that’s required for 21 balls in play to turn into only two hits. On the other hand, this start saw Berrios excel in the category that he’s struggled most in, and that’s allowing free passes. The 22-year-old righty has nasty raw stuff, and most prospect people seem to think the strikeouts will develop almost inevitably. But in his major league work last year, Berrios walked 12.5 percent of opponents, a figure that’s far too high.

A single start is not enough to draw any conclusions, but it’s very encouraging to see Berrios allow only one walk (and against a team that walks quite a bit). In his time in the minors this year, he also improved his walk rate compared to his previous AAA work, dropping from 8.3 percent in 2016 to 5.3 percent in 2017. Berrios wasn’t very whiff-heavy last night; he threw his curveball and changeup 27 times, and got only one whiff on eiher pitch. Instead, most of his whiffs (and strikeouts) came on his mid-90s fourseamer, the pitch that’s most polished at this stage and that Berrios has the most confidence in. He can do a lot with that pitch alone; it’s all he threw to Brantley in the plate appearance pictured above.

All in all, while this wasn’t a perfect start, it was a very good one, and saw Berrios perform well in several of the areas that he struggled with in his troubled debut last season. The Twins can’t ask for much more than that.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Brett Eibner — 465 feet

Ah yes, Brett Eibner, the famous baseball player for the Dodgers. I actually don’t think I had ever heard the name before seeing him atop today’s leaderboard, and having reviewed who exactly he is, I don’t feel too bad about that fact. Eibner is 28, came to the Dodgers by way of Oakland and Kansas City, and while he’s hit well in AAA (a triple slash of .279/.352/.433 across parts of four seasons), he’s also struck out 22.2 percent of the time.

It is therefore just the most Dodgers thing imaginable that Eibner would hit a colossal home run in just his third start. Power is definitely a known aspect of his game, but the Dodgers already have a plethora of surprising youngsters hitting so well that they don’t know what to do with all of them. Why shouldn’t Eibner slot right into that group? Of course, with only 11 plate appearances with the Dodgers, it’s way too early to say that he’ll do so, but this home run is a nice reminder of his capability, and of why the Dodgers should terrify just about every team in the NL in the present and the future.

True, this home run came at Coors, so it maybe can be docked a bit of credit as a result, but this can be docked a bit and still look outstanding. At 465 feet, it’s the eighth-longest home run of the season, which gives it plenty of impressiveness to spare. Coors is also just a wonderful park, and there’s something extremely cool about the pines in the outfield. Eibner hit this ball deep into the wilderness, from which it will never return.

SABRy tidbits

  • The pink Mothers’ Day uniforms that spread across the league this weekend are kinda dweeby, but if they are a step away from Cleveland’s racist mascot Chief Wahoo, they’re welcome in my book. As Matt Lyons details over at Let’s Go Tribe, Cleveland’s pink uniforms will feature the block C logo instead, after a few instances in the past of colorization of the Wahoo logo went very poorly.
  • Blake Parker is a reliever who has bounced around from team to team in the recent past, but this year, he’s running a strikeout rate of 36.1 percent with the Angels. At Halo’s Heaven, Rahul Setty goes deep on what was holding Parker back previously and what’s going well for him this year.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Adam Wainwright (3.99 projected ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (3.40 projected ERA)

This is kind of a bummer of a matchup, to be honest, but rules are rules, so it’s what we feature for today. The reason it’s a bummer is because both Wainwright and Arrieta have fallen precipitously from the dizzying heights they achieved not so long ago. From 2009 to 2014, Wainwright was consistently outstanding, with a 27.0 fWAR that ranked sixth over that period despite a season lost to Tommy John. But in 2015, Wainwright missed almost all of the season with an ankle injury sustained while batting (*cough* DH now *cough*), and last year put up a disappointing year (by his high standards) with a 3.93 FIP and a 4.62 ERA. So far, 2017 is off to a similar start, with a 3.79 FIP and a 6.37 ERA, and it seems likely that the 35-year-old Wainwright is increasingly feeling the impact of aging. The projections think he’s still got lots left in the tank, and that his ERA will come down, and they’re probably right, but Wainwright is certainly not who he once was.

Arrieta’s rise was faster, and his decline has been as well. He was famously traded (along with Pedro Strop) by the Orioles to the Cubs, in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman, which tells you something about the expectations for his career in 2013. But he broke out in 2014, with a 2.26 FIP and 2.53 ERA, then repeated and built upon his success in 2015, with a 2.35 FIP and 1.77 ERA that yielded a Cy Young award. Mysteriously, and frustratingly, Arrieta has taken a step back over the last two years, and his start to 2017 has been rocky, with a 3.75 FIP and 5.35 ERA. Arrieta has been a reminder of how abruptly a player can go from forgettable to incredible; he might be a reminder of the opposite soon enough, if this trend doesn’t reverse itself. As with Wainwright, though, the projections are more focused on his track record than his recent stats, and they think tonight will be a marquee matchup between two near-aces. Let’s hope they’re right.