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Launch angles — May 23, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/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

Daniel Descalso goes deep with ducks on the pond — +.281 WPA

Geez, what a boring night. This is a very small WPA swing to be the largest play, and is actually the smallest largest play we’ve had this season (beating out Mike Napoli’s +.285 walk-off from May 12 and Matt Adams’s -.287 double play from yesterday). It didn’t come at a particularly tense point in this game, either; the bottom of the fourth is maybe the most mundane inning possible. This dinger takes this slot by brute force: before it, the game was tied, and after it, the Diamondbacks had a three-run lead. That’s impactful no matter what point in the game it comes at.

Here’s a thing that irks me like nothing else: there is a ballpark named Coors Field. The Rockies play there. This home run took place in Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play. But Chase Field has Coors logos and branding plastered all over it, including “an upscale club area” called the Coors Light Strike Zone. That is stupid and confusing. I’ve made editors go back and fix my mistake for a lot of Diamondbacks/Rockies games that I said were played in Colorado and were actually played in Arizona, because my dumb brain sees “COORS” and assumes that means the game is in the place called “Coors.” I think, once you’ve got the naming rights to one stadium, you should be banned from every other park.

I’ve been wanting to get that off my chest. This is also a fine home run.

Yesterday’s best game score

Zack Greinke — 85

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.

Sometimes, the best game score of a night is in the 70s, and the outing in question is excellent but flawed in some way: a pitcher who got a shutout but by scattering 12 hits, or a pitcher who didn’t allow many baserunners but also didn’t strike anyone out. This start from Greinke is not one of those. This was a classic, dominant beatdown: 8 23 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 12 strikeouts, 1 walk. Greinke left with one out remaining in the ballgame and 104 pitches; it took Archie Bradley just one pitch to finish it off.

Greinke’s night followed that familiar pattern of strikeouts & ground balls that works so well for the pitchers who can pull it off. The 12 strikeouts limited the number of times the ball was put in play; the nine ground balls (versus one fly ball) meant that, when it was, it was easily fielded and converted to an out. That’s a product of his command, and you can tell by watching all the Ks that, when batters did make contact, it wasn’t going to be of the authoritative type. Almost every strikeout Greinke got featured either a fastball dotted right at the bottom of the zone, or a changeup or slider that fell under the zone and the hitter swung over. Those are great pitches for whiffs, and great pitches for easy contact even if you do miss by a few inches. If you can control the ball as well as Greinke can, things will go well.

By the end of the night, the Arizona righty was playing with his food, throwing a 65mph curveball to strike out Yólmer Sanchez that could fairly be called an eephus. A José Abreu double knocked him out in the 9th, but Greinke looked completely in control regardless, and almost certainly could have finished out the 9th. It was a dominant start from a dominant pitcher, who has reinvented himself yet again and found a way to thrive despite his velocity loss.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Brandon Phillips — 430 feet

I wonder what the most embarrassing thing is to ever have happened to a batter in the midst of a home run. Phillips almost falls over here, and it’s not because he did the Adrián Beltré and swung too hard; instead, he admires his handiwork from a sort of awkward position, and nearly ends up on his ass in the batter’s box. I have to think something like that has happened before, and someone else has probably tripped over a base, right? Phillips is almost certainly safe, having just courted potential disaster and not sunk all the way into it. And that’s good, because this was his 200th career home run! Now Phillips can remember this dinger for being enormous and significant, not the dinger where he took 45 seconds to round the bases because he fell over.

Phillips saw three consecutive sliders to start the plate appearance, then turned on the first fastball he saw. If you watch Francisco Cervelli’s glove, you see that this pitch was placed almost precisely where the Pirates battery wanted it. Which is strange, to me, because Phillips has a pretty obvious preference for low-and-in:

This was part of a rough night for Cole, which saw him depart in the 5th inning after giving up another home run, and only striking out two batters. The Pirates ace has been somewhat dinger prone this year, and yesterday it came back to bite him.

SABRy tidbits

  • With Starling Marte suspended for PEDs, Andrew McCutchen’s decline phase coming faster than expected, and the competitive window closing, 2017 is shaping up to be a real bummer of a year for the Pirates. Grant Brisbee goes in-depth on the decision to rebuild or not, one that almost every team has to face at some point.
  • Aníbal Sánchez has had a heckuva career. I didn’t realize he was 33, and that his stellar 2013 (2.39 FIP, 2.57 ERA) was quite as long ago as it was. He’s slipped a lot since then; his 2017 currently features a 9.00 ERA, and on Monday, he accepted an assignment to AAA. Kyle Yost of Bless You Boys breaks down his decline and fall, and also his possible (if unlikely) return.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Clayton Kershaw (2.52 projected ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (4.10 projected ERA)

I don’t know how much I can say about Kershaw, but also, I imagine I don’t need to sell him too hard. He appears in this spot also exactly once every five days, because he is so head-and-shoulders above almost any other pitcher in history in terms of track record and dominance. So far in 2017, his strikeouts have fallen to near-mortal levels of 26.1 percent, but the house money is on him pushing back up toward utter and complete dominance sooner rather than later.

On the other side, Lynn’s ERA projection looks outlandish if you focus on his 2.78 ERA to date this season and perhaps slightly optimistic if you look instead at his 5.02 FIP. That’s an enormous gap, and one that perhaps is explained by Lynn’s .217 BABIP, a mark that is way, way lower than his .304 career mark. His ground ball rate is higher than its ever been in a full season, so maybe there’s something to his excellent run prevention abilities. Maybe we’ll even find out tonight.