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Launch angles — May 29, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees
This was the only image that came up when I searched “Souza Judge.”
Photo by Rich Schultz/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

TIE — Steven Souza’s tying single and Aaron Judge’s go-ahead grand slam (+.356)

GIF via MLB.com
GIF via MLB.com

Since we started doing this recap series nearly two months ago — can you believe May is almost over? — we’ve usually seen two types of play in this top spot. Most common is the late-inning clutch hit, to bring a team back and/or put them ahead:

Image via FanGraphs

Less common, but still semi-frequent, is the big knock early in the game that proves to be the decisive blow:

Image via FanGraphs

Yesterday, we saw both types of plays happen — and for the first time this year, they had the same win probability added. (If we drilled deep enough, we could probably find a decimal point difference, but I’m lazy.)

Let’s start with the Rays. The Twins had scored two runs in the eighth inning to pull ahead 5-3; then came the ninth. With two outs, Evan Longoria smoked a double to left, bringing around Corey Dickerson and narrowing the gap to one run. Paul Molitor opted to intentionally walk Logan Morrison, bringing up the righty Souza against Brandon Kintzler.

The game should have ended there — Max Kepler made a crisp throw from right field, beating Evan Longoria by several steps. Yet Jason Castro couldn’t make the tag:

GIF via MLB.com

Minnesota challenged, but the ruling on the field would stand. The Rays ended up walking away with the 8-6 victory after 15 innings. A game-changing play can happen at any time. It’s usually how these things go — team enters [xth late inning] behind, team leaves [xth late inning] tied or with the lead.

The Yankees’ play was a little different. While the Athletics took an early 2-1 lead, New York showed some signs of life in the third inning. Ronald Torreyes and Gary Sanchez hit singles off Andrew Triggs, and Matt Holliday reached on an error to juice the bases. When Starlin Castro went down swinging for the second out, though, it seemed Oakland would escape unscathed. But Judge was ready to execute:

GIF via MLB.com

This is actually the earliest we’ve had a biggest play this season — twice before, we’ve seen one in the fourth inning, but never in the third. Still, this turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 edge, and the Yankees wouldn’t trail for the rest of the day.

As both the Rays and Yankees show us, there’s no one time for an important play. Whether off a laboring closer or a cruising starter, whether early or late, a clutch hit can come at any moment.

Yesterday’s best game score

Josh Tomlin — 76

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.

One of the many problems with Game Score — as a metric introduced to the world in 1988, it has no shortage of shortcomings — is its lack of an opponent adjustment. Yesterday, Jimmy Nelson flattened the 12th-best offense in the majors, allowing one run with seven hits, no walks, and 10 strikeouts over seven innings. But Tomlin upstaged him by facing the Royals, who rank 28th in baseball in wRC+. The Brewers are one of seven teams without a starter featured in this spot, and their drought will continue despite Nelson’s best efforts.

This is not to take anything away from Tomlin, of course. He went the distance against Kansas City, scattering six hits and eschewing the free pass. The Royals struck out just three times — all shown in the GIF above — but Tomlin’s more of a strike-throwing, pitch-to-contact guy, and that strategy seemed to pay off.

Continuing a trend for this season, Tomlin relied heavily on his sinker versus the Royals. He didn’t throw the pitch down in the zone, though — he attacked hitters high and in the strike zone:

Image via Baseball Savant

Sinkers accounted for 42 of Tomlin’s 111 pitches. Thirty-nine of his offerings were curveballs, which he went low with:

Image via Baseball Savant

That fastball-breaking ball combination helped Tomlin post a 71.2 percent strike rate and .179 BABIP. The Royals never had more than one man on base at a time, which let Tomlin cruise through nine innings with ease.

With this start, Tomlin shaved nearly a full run off his ERA, dropping from 6.70 to 5.79. He’s maintained stronger peripherals throughout the year — his FIP is a much more respectable 3.74 — so if he can continue to suppress hits and strand baserunners, his results will improve in turn. Plus, he’s now struck out 39 batters and walked just four; Phil Hughes set the MLB record in 2014 with an 11.63 K/BB, but Tomlin’s 9.75 isn’t far behind. Just because Nelson had a tougher adversary, doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate Tomlin’s dominance.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Greg Garcia — 462 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Home run distance, like Game Score, has some flaws — chief among them that it doesn’t take into account the ballpark. (I mean, how could it? It’s just a distance.) Yasiel Puig launched a 450-foot bomb yesterday, and in a ballpark that isn’t easy for righties; Garcia, meanwhile, had the fortune of playing in Coors Field for this one. Puig doesn’t get debited for his stadium, though, so Garcia reigns supreme here.

And man, does he ever. The Cardinals super-utility man looked over a first-pitch changeup from German Marquez, then pounced on the curveball:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Did the altitude help this ball travel 462 feet? Probably. Would it have left every other ballpark in baseball as well? Definitely. So while Puig deserves some respect, Garcia’s monster shot is the deserving winner here; its majesty can’t be paralleled, no matter what environment it might have happened in.

SABRy tidbits

  • The Yankees have a fair amount of questions surrounding their starting pitching. Can Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia turn their seasons around? How long can Luis Severino last? And will Chad Green get a chance to shine? Pinstripe Alley's Brett Borzelli has a solution to all these predicaments: New York should go with a six-man rotation.
  • Basically everyone on the Angels has gotten hurt this year — including demigod Mike Trout, who had a thumb injury yesterday. Yet the team has hung around; it’s now 26-27 and second place in the AL West (although pretty far behind the Astros). Halos Heaven’s Rahul Setty reminds fans to be grateful for this respectable start, especially after last year’s debacle.

Today’s best pitching matchup

David Price (3.62 projected ERA) vs. Jose Quintana (3.84 projected ERA)

The 2017 season hasn’t gone as planned for either of these southpaws. Price hasn’t thrown a big-league pitch all year, after suffering a semi-mysterious elbow injury at some point during the offseason. Quintana has labored his way through 61 23 innings, with the highest ERA (4.80) and xFIP (4.35) of his career. Each is still an “ace,” but they’re both at risk of losing that putative title.

Taking the hill for a day game, Price and Quintana will look to kick off on the right note and turn around, respectively, their seasons. In this duel of the hose, the former likely has the upper hand, as the White Sox offense (93 wRC+) has lagged behind that of the Red Sox (102 wRC+). Still, it should make for an entertaining Memorial Day matinee.


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.