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
Tommy Joseph wins it for the Phillies in extras — +.303 WPA
Entering play on Thursday the Rockies had the best record in the National League and the Phillies had the worst. While it’s a bit of a surprise to see Colorado play so well, Philadelphia is in the midst of a rebuild and therefore performing at about the level you would expect. One of the great things about baseball is that on any given day a bad team can defeat a good team. True talent will tend to win out over the course of a season, but for one day nothing should surprise.
It took 11 innings, but the Phillies took down the formidable Rockies on Thursday to snap their five game losing streak. After Michael Saunders doubled with one out to put himself in scoring position, the Phillies’ win expectancy was at 69.7 percent. Tommy Joseph didn’t waste any time after that as he poked the first pitch from Rockies reliever Scott Oberg — a slider down the middle — over a leaping DJ LeMahieu. Charlie Blackmon overran the ball in center, ensuring that Saunders could trot home for the victory.
Was it the most exciting walk off you’ll see this year, or even this week? No, but that’s okay. It’s still deserving of a celebratory bath of ice cold water and Powerade. And how considerate of his teammates to bring Joseph a towel for his immediate drying needs. That’s what teamwork is all about.
Yesterday’s best game score
Robbie Ray — 87
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.
Entering Thursday’s game against the Brewers, it would be fair to say that Robbie Ray has had a solid year. His 3.91 ERA and 4.00 weren’t overwhelming, but were still pretty good. His 29.8 percent strikeout rate was fantastic, but weighed down by an 11.7 percent walk rate. The Diamondbacks have been great; Ray has been fine.
Coming off his most impressive performance of the year against the wholly unimpressive Padres, Ray bested himself and delivered his most impressive start of the year. He threw seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits and striking out nine. The walks that have plagued him to this point were nowhere to be found as he issued no free passes in a game for the first time this year.
Ray induced 15 swinging strikes; six of which were on his 25 sliders for a 24 percent whiff rate on the pitch. He was able to keep the slider down in the zone consistently, elevating mostly his four-seam fastball and a couple of curveballs that stayed on the edge of the zone to his arm side.
Showing both how great he was and how early in the season it still is, Ray was able to lower his ERA to 3.45 and his FIP to 3.63 with just this one outing. It was a demonstration of how potentially dominant he could be if he can just get the walks under control. As if the Diamondbacks — winners of nine of their last 10 — needed any more help.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
J.D. Martinez — 430 feet
It wasn’t even close to the longest home run of the season, but boy was this one visually satisfying. We’ve talked before about home runs interacting with individual stadium landmarks or quirks, and J.D. Martinez delivered on that premise Thursday evening.
A couple of weeks ago I detailed how Mike Fiers has had a huge problem allowing home runs this season. He’s no stranger to the long ball, and it was clear to him that this was another moonshot as soon as the ball hit Martinez’s bat. Notice the knowing downward tilt of his head right after the moment of impact in the above gif. That’s a man who’s given up his share of home runs.
Even more demoralizing for Fiers is that it came on an 0-2 curveball that just caught the corner of the zone, it’s not like he hung the pitch over the middle of the plate. It was elevated though, and Martinez was able to turn and send it onto the Minute Maid Park train tracks.
A 106 mile per hour exit velocity is good, but not overwhelming. It’s the 36 degree launch angle that made this dinger so fun. Thanks to some outstanding camera work we can follow the path of the ball to it’s new home, where it will presumably begin a new life riding the rails.
- The Twins are leading the AL Central and have drastically exceeded expectations. While there are plenty of reasons for their success, Andrew Bryzgornia of Twinkie Town looks at an important one — defense.
- Welington Castillo has outperformed his offensive projections for the Orioles by a wide margin. While his .330/.356/.510 slash line and .408 BABIP probably won’t last, it’s still worth examining how he’s gotten to this point. Beyond the Box Score’s own Nick Cicere takes to the pages of Camden Chat to break down the swing of the man they call “Beef.”
- In his first season with the Cardinals, Seung-hwan Oh was dominant. Joe Schwarz of Viva El Birdos details why he hasn’t been able to replicate that success this year. Hint: he’s having trouble missing bats.
- Yankees reliever Adam Warren has struggled for a couple of weeks. Over at Pinstripe Alley, Tyler Norton investigates what has gone wrong for the right-hander. Is it a temporary slump or is he regressing to his true talent?
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Jake Arrieta (3.43 projected ERA) vs. Alex Wood (3.41 projected ERA)
If he had enough innings to qualify, Alex Wood would be the National League leader in ERA. His mark of 1.88 sits just ahead of both Mike Leake (1.91) and teammate Clayton Kershaw (2.01). Wood’s FIP is almost identical at 1.89 and he’s striking out a career high 29.9 percent of opposing hitters. His early season dominance is due mostly to an increase in both two-seam fastball velocity and changeup usage.
Perhaps most impressive is that Wood — already a ground ball pitcher — has been inducing more ground balls than ever. Again, while he doesn’t yet qualify on the MLB leaderboard due to a lack of innings, his 67.6 percent ground ball rate would be tops in baseball if you lower the innings requirement.
I’m not gonna sit here and say I told you so, but I definitely told you so.
While Wood has been a revelation, Jake Arrieta has struggled. He enters Friday’s game against the Dodgers with a 4.80 ERA and 3.92 FIP. The good news is that his strikeout and walk rates look good at 24.8 percent and 6.3 percent respectively. While you expect Arrieta’s .345 BABIP to regress some, the fact that’s his ground ball rate has declined sharply from his past two fantastic seasons is definite cause for concern. He’s done the exact opposite of Alex Wood.
Arrieta is coming off one of his best starts of the season against the Brewers, so it’ll be interesting to see if he has begun to right the ship. If he can keep it going on Friday, the Cubs/Dodgers showdown should make for an excellent baseball game.
Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.