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
Adam Rosales — +.766 WPA
The vast majority of our top plays from each day rely on the contributions of a single player (most often a batter hitting a home run), so it’s refreshing to see a team effort. Let’s rank the Athletics involved in making this play happen, from bottom to top.
- Bruce Maxwell: he does nothing wrong, but scoring from third on this hit required not much effort at all, and his slide signal is a bit tentative. He did earn the two-out walk that made this play possible, and that was good.
- Adam Rosales: you got the hit! Great job!
- Matt Joyce: Joyce both a) hit the double that put runners on second and third and directly enabled this play, and b) scored from second on a ball where that was not guaranteed. At 32, Joyce is not fast, so this is less about his own abilities and more about heart. He flies down the third base line! He makes a great slide to the back of the plate! All-around great effort.
- Jaff Decker: the star of the play. It took me a long time to figure out what he was doing in the frame. Truly, it’s his enthusiastic urging that makes Joyce go fast enough to score. It’s expected that you cheer when you were on base for the play; it’s going above and beyond when you come up from the on-deck circle.
A good throw from Upton probably keeps this game tied, but alas. The other good thing about this comeback was how sudden it was. There are back-and-forth games, where both teams hover around even for all nine innings, and there are games like this, where one team seems to be in control all the way until the final out, when they aren’t. Both categories are good, but the latter leads to some excellent WPA graphs:
Yesterday’s best game score
Josh Tomlin — 76
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.
Game score is very much a descriptive stat, rather than a predictive one. This score tells you that Josh Tomlin had a very good game las night; it doesn’t tell you whether he can be fully credited for that game, or how likely it is that he’ll continue to have such games in the future. Tomlin went seven innings, allowing only three hits, no walks, and no runs, but only striking out three opposing batters. That’s certainly a great night, but it’s a little different from the high-strikeout affairs that have often occupied this place in the recap.
It’s also probably the only way that Tomlin could ever take this spot, as high strikeout counts are not really his thing. Last night, he topped out at 89 mph, and along with a ton of pitches in the zone (a 74 percent strike rate) and the swing-happy Royals offense on the other side, that’s a recipe for a lot of balls in play. But by spreading out his approach across all five pitches of his arsenal, including his nasty changeup (as pictured above, making Brandon Moss look foolish), he ensured those balls in play were of the weakly hit, playable variety.
All in all, there was a lot about Tomlin’s approach to put batters off-balance, and that’s exactly what he did. He also flew through his seven innings, with only 76 pitches, a blistering pace between those pitches (19.9 seconds on average), and a final game time of just 2:37.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Chris Young — 430 feet
This was the beginning of an eight-run drubbing the Red Sox put on Nick Tepesch and the Twins in the second inning of this game. Tepesch has some major league experience, but he’s been a quad-A type for most of his short career, and yesterday was a demonstration of why, as he couldn’t make it out of the second inning. But luckily for him, it didn’t really matter; this Chris Young bomb was deserved, but an error two batters later meant that all the runs that followed were unearned. That Tepesch gave up another three doubles and two singles after that error is thankfully not blamed on him, but on Jorge Polanco’s error six batters earlier. Phewf.
Chris Young has had a bit of a slow start to the year, with this home run and the one he hit in the fifth inning his first and second dingers of the year, respectively. But it’s not entirely his fault, as he’s been unexpectedly conscripted into more full-time play than he was signed for. Young’s calling card is his ability to mash lefthanded pitching while also playing a solid defensive outfield, but this year, he’s accumulated 55 PAs against righties and just 18 against lefties. What’s more, he’s actually hitting the righties (133 wRC+) much, much better than the lefties (73 wRC+). We’re parsing some pretty small samples here, so there’s no reason to think that Young is abruptly departing from his career pattern. But it’s a reminder that he could probably be a totally adequate full-time starter, should the need arise.
- Zach Britton is dealing with a forearm strain, and after what seemed like a quick recovery, he’s taken a step back. Mark Brown of Camden Chat notes that, while the injury brings the possibility of lingering effects, it might also explain Britton’s lackluster early season performance, and give Orioles fans hope for a resurgence when he makes his fully healthy return.
- Not many teams have the payroll to rebuild the way the Cubs did, but the Yankees are certainly among that select group. At Pinstripe Alley, Matt Provenzano notes that the Bombers could look to the Cubs for a rebuilding blueprint. At least as of right now, however, it seems like the Yankees don’t really need a full rebuild, so the blueprint might be more focused on supplementing a young core with expensive free agents, something the Cubs did very well and the Yankees can certainly emulate.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Ervin Santana (4.40 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.92 projected ERA)
We’ve gotten a lot of lopsided matchups in this space, where one pitcher is doing all the work to bring the game to the top of our list. Yesterday, for example, it was Clayton Kershaw versus Clayton Richard; today it’s Chris Sale versus Ervin Santana. That might be a bug, and something we should design our methodology to avoid, but personally, I think it’s a feature. These matchups are lopsided, to be sure, but the reason they’re previewed each day is because one of the pitchers is so good as to make the other one worth watching.
To be fair, the projections think this matchup is more lopsided than it might appear if you only looked at the season to date. Santana has been quite good in 2017, allowing only 3 runs in his 41 innings pitched, and while that’s almost certainly the product of good luck, he’s also at an excellent 3.01 FIP. To be fair, that good FIP is itself more the product of good luck via home run suppression (a 1.4% HR rate thus far, compared to 3.0% for his career) than any improvement in strikeout or walk rate for Santana, so the projections might be right to be pessimistic.
On the other hand, this might even undersell Sale. The projections think his 2016 velocity drop and corresponding lack of effectiveness was perhaps the product of aging or fatigue; we know that it was strategy, and that the strategy has ended. Sale is back to his full-velocity self, and that version of Sale has been incredible. His current 37.5 percent strikeout rate would be the best of his career, and while it might not carry over a full season, it’s been a whole lot of fun for the first month of 2017. Santana could give up eight runs in the first inning tonight (hypothetically) and this would still be a pitching matchup worth walking, thanks to the new Boston ace.