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Launch angles — May 22, 2017

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All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves
Of all the Matt Kemps in the world, you’re the Matt Kempiest.
Dale Zanine-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

Matt Adams lines into a double play — -.287 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

This play appearing here is weird for three reasons. It’s only the second time this season we’ve had a negative play in the top spot (the first being Willson Contreras’s -.333-WPA double play on May 4). In terms of absolute value WPA, it’s the second-smallest play to take home the crown (the smallest being Mike Napoli’s +.285-WPA walk-off homer on May 11). And right before this play, this happened:

H/T to Chris Anders for GIFifying.
GIF via MLB.tv

After Stephen Strasburg went 7 23 strong innings for the Nationals — but without netting the top Game Score, as we’ll soon see — Koda Glover came on to close things out. Matt Kemp led off the ninth inning with a single, putting the winning run on first for the Braves and bringing new teammate Matt Adams to the plate.

Glover started Adams off with a changeup down the middle. Looking for a fastball to drive, the lefty swung over the top of it, as you see above. That worked so well for Glover, he decided to do it again:

Image via Brooks Baseball

That wasn’t the best decision, obviously. Adams caught up with the change on his second look at it, driving the ball at 95.6 mph — right into Ryan Zimmerman’s glove. Instead of having two runners on base with no one down, the Braves found themselves one out away from defeat.

This emasculating play didn’t even end the game. Instead of forfeiting, the Braves sent Kurt Suzuki to the plate with the bases empty. He hit an infield popup — and guess who caught that one? Yup, Zimmerman. Washington salvaged the third game of the series, and Atlanta walked away with a stinging loss in a season full of them. (I wonder if Freddie Freeman would have hit the ball harder…)

Yesterday’s best game score

Clayton Richard — 81

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.

In December, FanGraphs’s Carson Cistulli wrote an article titled, “The Padres Rotation Might Be Historically Poor.” He went into more detail, with projections and such, but really, that headline is all you need. San Diego signed Jered Weaver, for Christ’s sake — this was not a team with starting pitching worth watching.

And yet! Through the first two-odd months of the season, a Padres pitcher has put up the day’s best Game Score four times. That ties them with the Cardinals and the White Sox for the most in baseball. The Dodgers and Red Sox — whom FanGraphs projects to have the best two rotations in baseball — have appeared here four times combined. Richard twirled eight shutout innings against L.A. back on April 4, and yesterday he cruised again, limiting the Diamondbacks to a sole run on five hits over nine frames.

Richard’s never been a strikeout pitcher, and the K wasn’t his friend against Arizona; he fanned just six of the 32 hitters he faced. Like many a junkballing southpaw, Richard survives by avoiding walks and getting grounders. On Sunday, Richard threw 65 of 96 pitches for strikes, preventing the Dbacks from working a free pass; 13 of the 26 balls in play against him were on the ground. Thanks to sterling control and a little batted-ball luck, Richard rolled to the complete-game victory.

With Richard’s outing in the books, Friars starters have a 113 ERA-, 105 FIP-, and 93 xFIP- this year. If the team’s putrid defense can improve — and if it can stop giving up so many home runs — Richard and co. could show off some greatness. Or maybe they’ll just fill up the innings until Anderson Espinoza and Cal Quantrill get here.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Yan Gomes — 457 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Remember Gomes? He debuted for the Blue Jays in 2012 as the first Brazilian-born player in MLB history. As the Indians’ primary catcher from 2013 to 2014, he earned 9.6 WARP, thanks to a .284/.325/.476 triple-slash and smooth framing. But his offense and defense fell off a cliff over the next two years, as various injuries limited him to -1.1 WARP.

This year, he seems to have righted the ship. His framing has rebounded — he’s saved Cleveland 1.1 runs in 2017 after costing it 7.8 runs in 2015 and 2016 — and with this blast, he’s up to .267/.359/.456. Sure, it came off a crappy pitcher; Joe Musgrove had already allowed eight home runs before this one. At the end of the day, though, a dinger’s a dinger, and a moonshot’s a moonshot.

SABRy tidbits

  • For all the interesting arms the Phillies have — Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff in the rotation, and Hector Neris in the bullpen — their pitching staff can never seem to put it together. The Good Phight’s John Stolnis wonders how much responsibility pitching coach Bob McClure bears for that.
  • It’s an old cliche that players will try harder in their walk year to get a better contract in free agency. But does that axiom hold any water? Pinstripe Alley’s Joshua Diemert takes a look at the evidence to try to find an answer.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Michael Pineda (3.84 projected ERA) vs. Jason Vargas (3.95 projected ERA)

By the projections, this matchup pits two mediocre starters against each other. And you can see why the systems feel that way — heading into the 2017 season, Pineda and Vargas had career ERAs of 3.99 and 4.18, respectively. But ZiPS and Steamer are underestimating these two hurlers’ true talent levels.

Pineda has long underperformed his peripherals — his aforementioned 3.99 ERA came with a 3.42 FIP. This year, his ERA has dipped to (coincidentally) 3.42, as he’s finally started to live up to his potential. Vargas, meanwhile, has broken out in 2017, riding an improved changeup to a 2.03 ERA and 2.49 FIP in 48 23 innings. Before the season, this would look like a bland game; now, it features two of the hottest arms in the game.


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.