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Launch angles — May 8, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics
I mean, Healy didn’t have the biggest play, but how can you turn down a photo like this?
Photo by Ezra Shaw/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

The Tigers do that thing they do — +.484 WPA

H/T to Nick Stellini for GIFifying.
GIF via MLB.com

Yesterday had a lot of weirdness. The Phillies walked off against the Nationals (which is peculiar enough on its own, given the quality of those two clubs), and the winning play was only the fifth-biggest of the game:

Actually, it was the sixth-biggest play of the game — Cesar Hernandez’s ninth-inning double play was worth -.175 — but I wanted to put in this neat picture.
Image via FanGraphs

In Chicago, Aroldis Chapman blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning, against the team that overpaid for him last year; that contest didn’t wrap up until the 18th frame. In Minnesota, the Red Sox scored 10 runs (!) in the ninth inning (!!!), turning a 7-6 nailbiter into a 17-6 laugher. In Cincinnati, a middling starter twirled the third shutout of his 190-start career, which we’ll break down in further detail shortly. But Sunday’s biggest single play may also have been the most predictable.

Before yesterday, Detroit’s bullpen had the lowest WPA in baseball, with a full -2.59 victories taken away. That wasn’t a function of context, either — the team’s relievers also had the highest ERA (5.87) and the second-highest FIP (5.13). It looked like those numbers would come down after Sunday; Shane Greene, Blaine Hardy, and Justin Wilson combined to pitch 3 13 innings of scoreless relief. Then came Francisco Rodriguez.

On Saturday, the Athletics staged a comeback in the ninth, walking off on a two-run Adam Rosales single. Because that wasn’t absurd or cruel enough, they stretched things out a little bit on Sunday. Rajai Davis led off with a base on balls, and Jed Lowrie lined a changeup into the gap in left-center to bring him around and tie the score. Two batters later, Ryon Healy delivered the knockout punch:

GIF via MLB.com

No matter how many strikeouts two teams rack up in one game, or how many runs a team scores in a single inning, or what rebuilding club upsets what juggernaut, we can always count on some things. In this crazy life of ours, some certainty is nice. (Except if you’re a Tigers fan.)

Yesterday’s best game score

Scott Feldman — 89

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.

The issue with this section — and all the sections, really, but I have a narrative to maintain — is the standards for the top performance change every day. On Friday, Michael Fulmer took home the Game Score crown, notching a 71 against the Athletics. Last night, five pitchers beat that mark. Sadly, though, Jon Lester (75), Jose Urena (74), Tyler Chatwood (74), and Luis Severino (72) had the misfortune of going up against Feldman.

The Reds righty is no ace — even after yesterday’s effort, he has a 3.76 ERA and 3.99 FIP. Against the NL’s worst offense, however, he had his day in the spotlight. The Giants couldn’t score in nine innings against Feldman, who scattered four hits and a walk while collecting five strikeouts. The complete-game shutout gave the Reds the sweep.

Of the 24 balls San Francisco put in play, only eight went in the air. A devilish 66.7 percent ground ball rate would help any pitcher’s cause, but especially when this is the kind of defense you have behind you:

GIF via MLB.com

Heading into yesterday’s game, Cincinnati’s fielding had saved 14 runs, according to DRA; that ranked fifth in the majors. While the team’s outfielders had been worth -5 runs, the infielders (pitchers and catchers excluded) chipped in 12. That makes Feldman’s strategy a pretty logical one.

Earlier in the season, Feldman had shown a different side, striking out a ton of the hitters he faced through his first two starts. That strategy didn’t work forever, though; over two starts against the Brewers and Pirates, he gave up 11 runs in nine innings. So he went back to his old, reliable formula — get grounders and the occasional K — and it worked out pretty well. He won’t face an offense this weak every start, but it’s always good to rack up zeros when you can.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Giancarlo Stanton — 468 feet

H/T to Chris Anders for GIFifying.
GIF via MLB.com

A few days ago, SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee wondered if Stanton was fading into irrelevance. It seemed like a real question — at the time, Stanton was hitting .240/.316/.481 for a 107 wRC+. Luckily for him, the trainwreck known as the Mets was happy to bust him out of his slump. Stanton went 5-for-13 with three long balls in the three-game sweep, including that laser off a full-count curveball:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Thanks to this torrid effort over the weekend, Stanton has improved to .256/.328/.556, good for a 128 wRC+. That’s still not on pace with his career numbers — a 140 wRC+ is hard to top — but for a Marlins club vying for relevancy in a packed NL East, it’s a welcome sign. Watch the throne, Aaron Judge, because MLB’s other gargantuan slugger is making a comeback.

SABRy tidbits

  • Last week, after Adam Jones endured racial slurs at Fenway Park, a reporter asked Buck Showalter what he thought Jones was going through. His response (in part) was, “I can't sit here and profess to know how Adam feels; I've never been black.” Pinstripe Alley’s Joshua Diemert elaborates on that point, and it’s well worth your time.
  • CC Sabathia reinvented himself last year, and over his first few starts this season he kept up his momentum. But something’s gone wrong recently — his ERA for the season has ballooned to 5.45, and his FIP matches that. PSA’s Ryan Chichester might have located the source of his trouble: fraying command.
  • So! That K-Rod fella is struggling a bit. He’s allowed 12 runs in 11 23 innings this year, and at 35, he might be at the end of the road. Over at Bless You Boys, Patrick OKennedy makes the case for the Tigers pulling Rodriguez from the closer role.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Carlos Carrasco (3.42 projected ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (3.87 projected ERA)

In two games tonight, we’ll see an underrated ace take the hill against a former top prospect who hasn’t quite broken through. Jacob deGrom (3.34 projected ERA) faces off against Matt Moore (3.98 projected ERA) in Queens; the combined ERA of those two is just a hair worse than that of Carrasco and Stroman, though, so the AL duo gets the blurb.

For the life of me, I don’t know why more people don’t care about Carrasco. Over the rest of the season, FanGraphs thinks he’ll be the third-best starter in the AL. Maybe it’s the fact that one of the guys ahead of him on that list, Corey Kluber, also plays for the Indians, or maybe he just needs to keep outperforming his peripherals. Whatever the reason, Carrasco and his five-pitch arsenal should keep on rolling against a punchless Blue Jays lineup.

Stroman, too, has a deep repertoire — he’s thrown six pitches this year (albeit only three changeups). Still, he’s never prevented as many runs as you’d hope; his career ERA of 3.91 is a disappointment, especially compared with his 3.41 FIP. The Cleveland offense ranks ninth in the majors, so he might have some trouble with this group. Regardless, the two sinkerballers going head-to-head should make for an interesting watch.


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.