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Launch angles — May 27, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/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

Chris Iannetta sends it to extras — +.354 WPA

As we all expected, this game between the Brewers and Diamondbacks has implications for the playoff picture in both the NL Central and West. Despite their 25–23 record, the Brewers still look pretty flukey, if more interesting than anticipated; the Diamondbacks, and their 31–19 record, look like a team with real staying power. When Iannetta came to bat in the 9th, however, the D-Backs were down to their last out. Zack Godley had thrown a very good six innings, striking out six, walking one, and shutting out the Brewers, but the bullpen coughed up runs in the 7th and 8th, putting Arizona down by one.

Iannetta, upon hitting this home run, looks absolutely thrilled. You can really sense the energy he’s feeling as he rounds first base:

From 2012–14, Iannetta had a three-year stretch in which he ran a 116 wRC+ over more than 1,000 PAs. Since then, he’s been a substantially below-average hitter in both 2015 (79 wRC+) and 2016 (77 wRC+), so his current 102 wRC+ is a welcome return to form for him. Baseball Prospectus measures Iannetta as a below-average defensive catcher for his career — -94.3 runs total, or about 13 runs lost per full season — so if he’s going to contribute, it’ll have to be on offense. Last night was part of a good start to the season in that respect, and a crucial part of the Diamondbacks eventual victory over the Brewers. Chris Owings and Jake Lamb would double in the top of the 10th, and Fernando Rodney would close it out in the bottom.

Yesterday’s best game score

Max Scherzer and Tim Adleman — 86

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.

It’s a tie! Who doesn’t love ties? Answer: me. Which of these starts is more deserving of the highly prestigious recognition of this recap? Let’s break it down.

First, let’s note that an 86 is not just a good game score, but a great game score. There were only 44 games above 85 in all of 2016, and of those games, none of them had as few strikeouts as Adleman’s start last night. Those four shown in the gif above are all the strikeouts he got, making this elite game score peculiarly reliant on not allowing hits or walking batters — in his eight innings, Adleman faced only two batters over the minimum, giving up two walks and just one hit.

Scherzer, on the other hand, achieved his elite game score in more traditional fashion: by striking out a ton of batters. The three strikeouts shown above are simply his last three of the game, which took him to 13 on the night. Look at how silly he makes those Padres hitters look. Scherzer was still hitting 97 even as he threw his 100th pitch. The Nationals righty also was stingy with the free passes and hits, allowing just two walks and three hits. Still, one of those hits was a home run, meaning Scherzer didn’t finish the night with a shutout.

For me, it’s not a particularly difficult decision to give the nod to Scherzer. No-hitters are already kind of dumb, in my opinion; one-hitters are especially dumb. I don’t get excited when a pitcher is chasing a one-hitter. I do get excited when a pitcher has a bunch of strikeouts, and is still striking out chumps as he crosses into triple-digit pitches. Allowing a home run properly takes Scherzer down a notch, and I think it mades sense that these two performances tie. But I also think it makes sense to break the tie in the Nationals starter’s favor. And I’m the one writing the recap, so I get to make that decision.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Giancarlo Stanton — 460 feet

I’m writing this blurb at 8:30pm, before any of Friday’s games have finished. I’m that confident that this will be the longest home run of the night (plus, if I’m wrong, you’ll never know, since this section will have been deleted and replaced). This is not the longest home run of the season, or even in the top 10, but it’s definitely among the longest, and on a night when poor weather is dampening (literally and metaphorically) the distance of hits around the league. Stanton was always the batter that I thought would dominate this section of the recap most frequently, so I’m happy to draw a too-early conclusion. (Update: Mark Reynolds came within two feet of Stanton, but did not surpass him. Success.)

What’s particularly impressive about this home run is where the pitch was thrown. This was not a grooved fastball or a hanging breaking ball; this was a changeup that was admittedly within the zone, but at the very bottom of it:

BrooksBaseball.net

In 2016, pitchers threw 15,634 changeups in the bottom of the zone, only seven of which were smashed for home runs more than 450 feet. It takes a lot of force and a lot of strength to turn this kind of pitch into a home run. Luckily, Giancarlo Stanton is more than happy to provide.

After a slow start to the season, Stanton is up to 12 home runs, and his wRC+ is up to a respectable 128. His walk rate is down somewhat (9.0 percent, versus 11.6 percent for his career) and pitchers have seemingly been more aggressive and less fearful of Stanton, as his zone rate is up (43.4 percent, versus 39.8 percent for his career). But the Marlins outfielder is making a lot more contact than usual (74.1 percent, versus 68.3 percent career), and now that he’s driving the ball again, he’s ready to start punishing the newfound temerity of opposing pitchers.

SABRy tidbits

  • Everyone loves Bartolo Colón, but he turned 44 on Wednesday, and age appears to finally be catching up with him for good. Scott Coleman at Talking Chop lays out the numbers, and discusses the righty’s future with the Braves, plus which youngster might be called upon to replace him.
  • Trea Turner had an outstanding partial rookie season last year, then a horrendous start to this year. The cycle of adjustments and counter-adjustments and counter-counter-adjustments and on and on ad infinitum is one of the most important aspects of major league baseball, and as Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball notes, if a hitter can’t adapt, they aren’t long for the big leagues. Luckily, Turner seems to be doing just that, as his season starts to turn around.
  • Figuring out when a prospect is ready for the majors, and the related-but-distinct question of when a prospect is out of things to learn in the minors, is one of the most important decisions a club can make. Christian Arroyo is the Giants’ top prospect, and tore up AAA to start 2017 (.446/.478/.692), but he’s struggled mightily in his debut in San Francisco. Grant Brisbee lays out the case for demotion at McCovey Chronicles, and, more broadly, the case for not reading too much into these kinds of hiccups that come in the early careers of many players who nonetheless go on to be very successful.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Stephen Strasburg (3.27 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Richard (4.12 projected ERA)

Aw, man. Wrong Clayton. (How often do you think Clayton Richard gets that reaction?) Still, this should be a solid matchup, though mostly thanks to Strasburg. Richard is fine, which makes him something like an ace in the hapless Padres rotation; he’s running a 17.2 percent strikeout rate this season, which is both very low (72nd out of 94 qualified pitchers) and the highest rate of Richard’s career since 2010. He’s still Clayton Richard, but he’s not the horrendous Clayton Richard you may remember from last season.

Strasburg is similarly in the middle of a good season, though one distinctly different from his recent past. His strikeout rate is at 24.2 percent, down substantially from his career rate of 28.7 percent, but his home run rate has also fallen, and is currently sitting at 1.6 percent (versus 2.3 percent for his career). The overall result is similar, by ERA (3.28 this season, 3.18 career) and FIP (2.82 this season, 2.85 career), and much better by DRA, Baseball Prospectus’s advanced pitching metric (2.18 this season, 2.66 career). We generally think of home runs as flukey, and not something pitchers control that tightly, but DRA is meant to control for everything that can be controlled for, and it thinks Strasburg deserves credit for the change. The Padres offense is nearly as hapless as its pitching — its 3.44 runs per game ranks 28th in the majors — so this should be a good chance for Strasburg to crush.