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
Tyler Collins goes deep, again — +.367 WPA
Ubaldo Jimenez gave up a home run? That can’t be right. But we’ve got photographic evidence, so I guess I just have to accept it as the truth, unlikely as it is. This is the rare WPA winner that isn’t a walk-off, and doesn’t even come in the late innings. But with a 4–2 lead and two outs in the 5th, the Orioles were in a secure position, even with two men on base. The only thing that could take the lead away from them immediately would be a home run, and again, it was Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound. How likely could a home run be?
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Tyler Collins is not really a power threat. In 493 career plate appearances, he has 13 home runs, two of which came last night. (He also hit a solo shot earlier in the game.) And prior to this game, he was mired in an 0-for-30 streak, so the Orioles really had every reason to think their lead was secure when this pitch was thrown.
All joking aside: whoof, Ubaldo Jimenez. With a 6.52 ERA and 6.76 FIP, he hasn’t been good any way you slice it. Yes, he’s giving up tons of dingers (10 already, in just 38 2⁄3 innings), but his strikeouts are down as well, and his walks are up. And the Orioles rotation is totally uninjured! Baltimore wasn’t forced into this position; they planned on him being a functional starter, and it looks like that was a mistake. Tyler Collins thanks him for restoring his confidence, however.
Yesterday’s best game score
Christian Bergman — 89
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 had to look up who Christian Bergman was. I don’t believe I had ever seen his name before last night, when he went 7 1⁄3 innings with no runs, two hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts. He was a Rockies prospect who signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners this offseason, and is only in the majors because the Mariners have lost four of their starting five to injury. In his career at triple-A, his strikeout rate topped out at 16.7 percent, which doesn’t exactly portend major league dominance. But then, last night, he struck out nine batters in seven innings! What happened?
Bergman features five distinct pitches — fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball, changeup — but none of them have traditionally been a real “out” pitch that he can turn to when he wanted a swing-and-miss, as his whiff rates on all of them have stayed below 20 percent. That was not the case last night, however, when Bergman threw his curveball 13 times and induced six whiffs on seven swings (two of which are pictured above), along with another two called strikes. Along with his slider, which he threw 33 times for only four whiffs but an incredible 17 foul balls, the curveball kept opposing hitters off-balance, and allowed him to cruise through them. Add in some help from the defense behind him, and you have a gem of a start for a 29-year-old former nobody.
So that’s all it takes: developing, out of nowhere, the ability to get whiffs. Simple! Pitching coaches, take note. Who knows if Bergman’s curveball will maintain this newfound deception and bite — for whatever it’s worth, the A’s offense has the fifth-highest strikeout rate in the league, but are middle-of-the-pack in their contact abilities — but it’s certainly a great sign for him that this could even happen once, and suggests the potential for something more. The Mariners need all the help they can get.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Chris Herrmann — 448 feet
Just to answer the burning question that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind: this walk-off was just short of taking the top WPA spot from the Collins home run, at .353 WPA. The fact that the Diamondbacks had just closed out the top of the ninth, and had at least three chances to win it before having to go to extra innings, meant that, as far as walk-offs go, this one was actually not that big of a swing.
But Chris Herrmann cares not for trivialities such as WPA. He gets in this recap the hard way: by hitting a ball almost 450 feet. Rafael Montero had thrown him one sinker and one changeup, both out of the zone, and neither of which Herrmann chased. So Montero went with the old standby of “throw a fastball down the middle of the plate.” It worked, in that Herrmann swung!
Here’s a thing I didn’t realize: Herrmann was worth 1.5 WAR to the Diamondbacks last year in just 166 PAs, with a 117 wRC+. He’s back to his light-hitting ways this year, seemingly; even after this home run, his wRC+ for 2017 is below 70. But this home run, and his surprising 2016, are good reminders that almost every major leaguer has the capability of going crazy for a few hundred PAs and looking like a real offensive threat. Herrmann probably is not that sort of threat in reality, but there’s certainly a chance that you get lucky, and get the dinger-smashing version of him that won it for the Diamondbacks last night.
- The trade deadline is about two months off, but it’s not too early to start planning, particularly for teams that have meaningfully changed the outlook of their 2017 season. Enter the Rockies, who are projected as a .500 team but have already banked 25 wins in 40 games. As Ryan Schoppe points out at Purple Row, if they meet those projections, they’ll likely grab a Wild Card slot with 85 or 86 wins, meaning that it’s time to start thinking about how they can upgrade at the deadline.
- I just talked shit about Ubaldo Jimenez, but Joe Widra of Camden Chat did some actual analysis to argue that it’s really hard to analyze or predict what Jimenez will do. I think I agree that Jimenez has also been somewhat unlucky this year, but I have trouble buying that he can still be a valuable starter for anyone.
- Zack Cozart is wilding out, with a 169 wRC+ that is better than he’s ever displayed. At Red Reporter, Wick Terrell points out the similarity between Cozart’s offensive growth and that of Brandon Crawford, and tries to divine the Cincinnati shortstop’s future with some help from that comp.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Julio Teheran (4.12 projected ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (3.86 projected ERA)
If you just went by the ERAs, this matchup might not look so exciting. But Stroman and Teheran both have a lot going for them, in terms of watchability and interest. Teheran has had a bumpy career — I was surprised to see that he’s 26, and in the midst of his fifth full season — and 2017 is off to a rough start. His strikeout rate has fallen from 22.0 percent in 2016 to 16.9 percent in 2017, and his walk rate has more than doubled, from 5.4 percent to 11.0 percent. That’s definitely bad, but it’s also a reminder of how good Teheran was last year. He may or may not be a part of the next great Braves team, and trying to divine his future is a fun, if futile, task.
Stroman suffers a bit as a result of our decision to use ERA instead of FIP in this section. Over his career, his ERA is about a half-run higher than his FIP, and that pattern held in both of his prior full seasons. But 2017 is off to a great start, both because Stroman’s FIP of 3.37 is a real improvement over his 2016, and because his ERA of 3.33 matches it nearly perfectly. Stroman, like Teheran, doesn’t rely entirely on strikeouts, and is notable instead for his massive 58.2 percent career ground ball rate, meaning that this should be a fun, contact-filled game, if not a traditional pitcher’s duel.