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Launch angles — May 17, 2017

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Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/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

Matt Joyce gives the A’s another comeback — +.577 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

The Athletics have had a weird year. In one sense, they’ve been a remarkably unlucky team; as FanGraphs’s Jeff Sullivan laid out last week, Oakland has underperformed in terms of both run scoring and run prevention. In another sense, though, they’ve actually gotten lucky, with a boatload of come-from-behind and one-run victories.

Last night’s contest didn’t fall into the latter category — Mark Canha’s three-run shot later in the ninth saw to that — but it did meet the former requirement. The Athletics rallied in three straight games last week, and thanks to Steve Cishek’s ninth-inning implosion, they’re now tied with the Yankees for the most appearances in this section of our recap (both have four).

Now, about that implosion! Cishek was pitching in his second game of the 2017 season, and it looks like he’s a bit rusty. After Rajai Davis hit a leadoff single, Joyce launched a 2-0 sinker into the Seattle night. Khris Davis followed up with a one-out walk, and one batter later, Cishek was out of the game, having blown the save. The A’s walked away with a 9-6 victory — alternatively, the M’s suffered a 6-9 loss — and Cishek’s ERA ballooned to 40.50. That’s what happens when you mess with the team of fate.

Yesterday’s best Game Score

Yu Darvish — 76

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.

The following two facts are true (as is the case for all facts, I suppose):

  • This is Darvish’s first appearance of 2017 on the “best Game Score” feature.
  • His Rangers teammate A.J. Griffin has already appeared twice on this feature.

Griffin has been bizarrely competent thus far — through 34 13 innings, he’s sporting a 3.15 ERA despite a 4.80 FIP and 7.52 DRA (not a typo). But Tuesday was Darvish’s time to shine, and none of the Phillies could withstand his brilliant light.

The Japanese righty threw 95 pitches versus Philadelphia. 70 went for strikes, 21 went for called strikes, and 18 went for swinging strikes. Every pitch was good for something — the four-seamer caught some hitters looking, the slider and cutter racked up whiffs, and the sinker had a ton of strikes. Hell, each of the two curveballs he threw induced a swing-and-miss:

GIF via MLB.com

Darvish has one of the deepest arsenals in baseball, and it was on display in his seven-inning, four-hit, nine-strikeout gem. Whether he remains in Texas for the rest of the year or heads elsewhere over the summer — the latter of which seems increasingly likely — we, as mostly neutral baseball fans, can hope Darvish continues rolling and leaving hitters flailing. (What, you’d rather watch Griffin bullshit his way through a complete-game shutout against the Padres?)

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Kyle Schwarber — 462 feet

GIF via MLB.com

The term “swat” gets thrown around a lot these days. Every home run isn’t a “swat” — even the sultan thereof had some that barely made it out of the park — yet countless MLB.com headlines bear this predicate. This Jose Bautista swing comes on too high a pitch. This Josh Bell cut requires too much effort. A swat, in other words, is like obscenity: I know it when I see it.

Schwarber swatted that pitch. I mean, good Lord, look at that thing fly! The effortlessness of his stroke delivered the pitch several rows deep in the Wrigley Field bleachers, and of course, it couldn’t have happened without a poignantly floating Bronson Arroyo changeup:

Image via Brooks Baseball

The stars aligned perfectly — an eminently swattable pitch met a batter who swats like few others — and the result was glorious. Ruth himself would be proud. (Well, after wondering why the Cubs were playing a night game.)

SABRy tidbits

  • Uber-prospect Bradley Zimmer made his MLB debut for the Indians last night. He didn’t exactly stand out — three strikeouts in three plate appearances is not what he was looking for — but as Let’s Go Tribe’s Matt Lyons broke down before the game, Zimmer’s altered swing should grant him regular success in the Show.
  • Michael Pineda has had a spectacular year for the Yankees; Masahiro Tanaka … has not. Pinstripe Alley has coverage for both! Jake Devin looks at some other Pineda hot streaks from years past to determine if this one’s different, and Tyler Norton dives into the data to pinpoint the source of Tanaka’s troubles.
  • Look, RBIs don’t matter — I know it, you know it, we all know it. But damn it, this Buster Posey stat, from McCovey Chronicles’s Grant Brisbee, is too interesting not to share.
  • Rays righty Alex Cobb was one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball. Then he went under the knife, and since then he hasn’t been the same — until now, that is. Over at DRaysBay, Dan Slaubaugh analyzes the recent changes to Cobb’s arsenal, which could help him regain the potential he once displayed.
  • Like several key Mariners players, Kyle Seager has stumbled out of the gate this year; he’s batting .254/.340/.396 with only four home runs in 156 plate appearances. He looks like the same hitter underneath that, though, so Lookout Landing’s Jake Mailhot thinks things will go back to normal.
  • While Aledyms Diaz had a sensational rookie campaign in 2016, hitting .300/.369/.510 for the Cardinals, his exit velocity suggested it was mostly a fluke. This year, both his peripherals and his results have taken a nosedive. Viva El Birdos’s Ben Markham tries to separate the luck from the skill to figure out what’s gone wrong.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Clayton Kershaw (2.52 projected ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (3.41 projected ERA)

Kershaw will make his ninth start of the season tonight. He’s appeared on this feature for all eight of his previous games this year. But the 2017 season hasn’t gone as planned for the Dodgers ace, as he’s giving up the most hard contact — and the most round-trippers — of his career. While his 2.52 rest-of-season ERA still paces the majors, it’s a step back from his MLB-leading 2.34 preseason projection.

Cueto, too, hasn’t lived up to the predictions — he’s gone from a projected ERA of 3.23 before the year to 3.41 now. And like Kershaw, he’s letting hitters square the ball up like never before. As the Dodgers and Giants face off tonight, these two aces will look to get back on track.


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.