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Launch angles — May 31, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/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

Elvis Andrus ties it up — +.392 WPA

MLB.com

The Rangers were not down to their last strike, out, or even inning when Andrus hit this blast into the Rays bullpen. This takes the top spot in the recap less because of when it happened, and more because of how abrupt a shift it was. The Rays went up 4-2 in the third inning, and the tenor of the game hadn’t changed much since that point. Three-run homers tend to be pretty disruptive to the prevailing narrative, however. The Rangers would go on to score four more runs in the bottom of the 8th, and win by a comfortable 9-5 score.

Andrus has picked up where he left off last season, for the most part. After seven seasons of below-average offense, he looked like an established player: defensively useful, but not about to blow anybody away on the other side of the ball. Last year, however, he ended up with a 112 wRC+, thanks in large part to an ISO of .136 that was the highest of his career by a large margin. Andrus’s overall line is down slightly in 2017, to 107, but his ISO of .168 is even higher, which suggests that last year wasn’t simply a fluke. This home run was his seventh of the year; his previous season-high was eight, in 2016. With two-thirds of the season still remaining, Andrus is well-positioned to build further on his 2016 success.

I appreciate the producer who decided to really let this shot linger on the Rays bullpen. Hitting a dinger into the other team’s bullpen is already a power move — at least one coach appears to have to move away from the home run’s landing spot — and especially when that team has a pitcher warming up (who could have entered the game and possibly prevented the home run from happening), it’s a nice twist of the knife. For their part, the Rays relievers do a pretty good job of looking nonchalant, so they come out looking as good as possible after their team allowed a three-run homer and lost the lead.

Yesterday’s best game score

Robbie Ray — 96

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.

MLB.com

Now this is a best game score that I can get excited about. Ray’s performance — a complete game with ten strikeouts, four hits, no walks, and no runs — is the second-highest game score of the year, behind only Ervin Santana’s 98 from April 15. Pictured above is Ray’s final strikeout, wherein he uncorked the 95mph heat on his 115th pitch of the ballgame and got Josh Bell to swing right under it.

That fourseamer was his best pitch of the night, garnering an impressive 18 whiffs on just 38 swings. Ray also throws a slider and curveball, but they both took a backseat to the fastball. The D-Backs lefty threw the slider just 12 times (with no whiffs), and the curveball 27 times (with four whiffs). Ray’s recipe for success was simple: fastballs at the top of the zone, with the occasional offspeed pitch below the zone to keep batters honest. That’s easier said than done, of course, but when it works, it works well; it’s tough to walk anybody when your out pitch is a fourseamer that goes for strikes about 70% of the time.

BrooksBaseball.net

Ray is semi-notorious in the sabermetric community for the way his peripherals outstripped his results last season. His 3.76 FIP was quite good (22nd leaguewide among 73 qualified starters), but his 4.90 ERA was very definitely not (69th leaguewide). Without much in the way of prospect pedigree or hype, it was an open question which version of Robbie Ray was the real one. Thus far in 2017, however, he appears to have answered that question as best he can, with his 3.27 FIP representing a major step forward from 2016 and his 3.00 ERA finally lining up with it. Ray’s performance this season has therefore been a big part of the Diamondbacks’ unexpected success.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Robinson Canó — 443 feet

MLB.com

Robinson Canó does a great many things very, very well, but it’s easy to forget just how much of a power threat he really is. This was the 288th home run of his career, which means he’s averaged roughly 22 dingers per full season of play. His first two years with the Mariners saw a bit of a slide on the power front; Canó’s ISO over that period was .149, compared to .217 from 2009–13 with the Yankees, and that was one of the reasons there was some concern about how he would age into his mega-contract with the Mariners. Since then, however, the power has returned with a vengeance, and Canó’s ISO of .235 in 2016–17 is higher than his ISO in all but one of his previous seasons.

Also impressive is how he golfed this home run out. This section of the recap sees its share of mistake pitches — hanging changeups, grooved fastballs, etc. — but this slider from Mike Dunn was not that bad of a pitch. It caught a sizable chunk of the zone, to be sure, but there aren’t many good options when it comes to pitching to Canó:

In 2017, there have been 353 home runs on pitches (like this one) that were less than two feet off the ground, so the mere fact of this home run is not that impressive. Just 22 of those home runs, however, have gone more than 440 feet, so this specific home run from Canó is certainly impressive (with perhaps a little help from Coors).

SABRy tidbits

  • The Nationals-Giants brouhaha was incredibly dumb, as is almost every single baseball fight of any variety. But it gives us another edition of Grant Brisbee’s adjudication of the unwritten rules, which is always required reading, and this time is no exception.
  • In the realm of actual baseball instead of fighting that happens to overlap with baseball, Nationals relief prospect Koda Glover is having himself a heckuva year. Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball breaks down his ascension to the closer role, and what questions still remain for the 24-year-old righty.
  • The Rays are one of several teams that may or may not decide to sell off parts at the trade deadline, but as Adam Sanford points out at DRays Bay, they’ve been pretty predictable in years past. Alex Cobb is having a decent season, but with a contract that expires at the end of the year. Only one pre-free agency Ray — Melvin Upton — has ever not been traded before contract expiration. The interesting question that Sanford delves into, however, is what the Rays do beyond that. Tampa has never been a team for all-or-nothing rebuilding, which leaves a lot of possibilities open for this summer.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Carlos Martinez (3.52 projected ERA) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (4.11 projected ERA)

Our way of picking matchups for this slot is very simple, and doesn’t include any kind of rivalry indicator or leverage variable. As a result, it’s nice when we accidentally stumble into a matchup like this one, between two teams with storied histories and playoff aspirations. The Dodgers have finally moved into the lead in the NL West, thanks to their excellent 33–20 record, while the Cardinals are sitting at 24–25 and looking up at the Brewers in the NL Central. But tomorrow, St. Louis will start with the edge, thanks to 25-year-old Carlos Martinez. In his three full seasons, the righty has been near-metronomic in his consistent performance, and his 2017 FIP and ERA (3.65 and 3.32, respectively) fit right into his career numbers.

Ryu, on the other hand, has not been particularly reliable. The Dodgers signed him out of the KBO before 2013, and he put in two excellent seasons before shoulder and elbow surgeries limited him to just 4 23 innings in 2015 and 2016. 2017 has been a mixed bag, as Ryu has actually pitched (improvement!) but with a 4.28 ERA and 5.24 FIP (not improvement). He was bumped from the rotation recently, in the ongoing musical chairs of the Dodgers pitching staff, but is moving back in with Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy experiencing some degree of injury. Ryu will be looking to turn in the kind of start that could help him regain his spot as a starter.