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Launch angles — May 9, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/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

Lowrie walks it off in the 11th — +.467 WPA

The A’s are making a habit of late-inning dramatics. This was their third walkoff in as many nights, and their third straight appearance as the biggest play of the night. This was the first one not to come against the Tigers’ bullpen, however, so that’s new! This was the second home run of the night for Lowrie, who is having himself a bit of a renaissance year. His 140 wRC+ is quite good, and it would be a high mark for him if sustained over a full season. He has had streaks like this one in the past, however, so it’s too early to say that this represents a real change for the switch-hitting shortstop second baseman and not just a trick of the break between seasons.

We talk a lot about pitcher reactions to home runs, and Deolis Guerra has a good one in the above shot. But my favorite part of the GIF is Martin Maldonado hustling away from the A’s burgeoning celebration around home plate. Losing via walk-off is bad enough already, and I can’t blame him for wanting to get away as quickly as possible. The visual of the A’s players hopping around while Maldonado puts his head down and walks away from a bad day at work is just very poignant, is all.

Yesterday’s best game score

Alex Wood — 75

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.

A score of 75 is not that great. It’s very good! But on most days, it’s going to take a better start than that to grab the top spot. With only nine games yesterday, it was a little easier than usual for a good-but-not-amazing Game Score to take the top spot, and that’s fine. I bring it up only to say that, if a 75 is going to take the top spot, Alex Wood’s outing is the kind of 75 I want to celebrate. He only lasted five innings (which is what limited his Game Score), but struck out eleven opposing Pirates, allowing just two hits, one walk, and no runs. Efficiency is overrated. (Actually, Wood wasn’t even that inefficient, leaving the game after only 88 pitches. He hasn’t gone over 94 pitches this season, though, and the Dodgers were up 10–0 after five, so pulling him made sense.)

Wood was pounding the zone last night, and many of those strikes were of the called variety. The curveball to McCutchen in the above gif is one example, but Wood also snuck ten fastballs into the zone without a swing. His changeup wasn’t freezing anyone, but changeups are supposed to be deceptive in a different way, and Wood’s was certainly fooling the Pirates, generating five whiffs in his five innings.

After starting the season in the bullpen, Wood has transitioned very nicely to the rotation, with a 2.73 ERA and 1.89 FIP that have both been helped by his 31.2 percent strikeout rate. The Dodgers’ strategy of signing lots of unreliable starters and seeing which ones will fill out their starting five at any given moment in the season only works if they have a few pitchers who they can move into or out of the rotation as needed. Those can be full-time starters who can still get something out of pitching in the minors, like Julio Urias, or they can be players like Wood, who are flexible enough to move from the bullpen to the rotation and back. Wood thus has value simply in how he enables Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Scott Kazmir; that he’s enabling them while striking out almost a third of opposing batters is what makes him excellent.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Ryan Goins — 439 feet

You’re not fooling anyone, Roberto Pérez.

Ryan Goins is not high on the list of players I’d expect to top this leaderboard on any given day. That he has tells us two things: first, baseball is weird, and a season that spans 180 days will see a lot of unexpected things happen at some point; and two, Ryan Goins may have found his power stroke. This was his third home run of the season, which matches his 2016 total in more than 100 fewer PAs, and his ISO has risen to .180 from a career figure of .101. Indeed, Goins’s transformation doesn’t appear to be limited to his power capabilities; he’s also cut his strikeout rate by almost four points, to 17.6 percent, and taken his walk rate from a paltry 5.9 percent before this season to 9.5 percent currently.

Goins’s overall average exit velocity has actually fallen slightly, from 86.6mph in 2016 to 86.1mph this season. But his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives has increased by about the same amount, so Goins isn’t hitting the ball any softer when it counts. The biggest change seems to have been to his patience: Goins’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone has fallen from 32.1 percent to 25.7 percent. Fewer chases means less weak contact on hard pitches to hit, and more pitches in the zone that can be driven, such as the one that Bauer threw to him in the above plate appearance.

Even with those changes, Goins is still not hitting particularly well, with a .200/.274/.385 triple slash that translates to a 79 wRC+. But a) that’s still an improvement over his 60 wRC+ in his career prior to 2017, and b) some of that is likely the product of his .200 BABIP, a figure that should regress positively as the season goes on. If it does, Goins will be a real happy surprise for the Blue Jays, and they need as many of those as they can get.

SABRy tidbits

  • Former BtBSer and current Purple Rower Eric Garcia McKinley took a look at Carlos Gonzalez’s slow start to 2017, and his career decline more broadly. CarGo has always been streaky, but as he’s getting older, the bad streaks are getting longer and more frequent, which makes each one harder to write off as just a phase.
  • John Paschal is a very good and very funny writer, and over at the Hardball Times, he reports the results of an experiment he performed, watching MLB Network every week of the season and determining where each analyst hailed from in an attempt to document any regional bias the show might have. The results will almost certainly not surprise you, but if you’re from somewhere other than Southern New York or Los Angeles, they will hopefully be cathartic.
  • The battle between the Mets and Matt Harvey is like Godzilla vs. Jet Jaguar, or Alien vs. Predator: it’s unclear who we really want to win, because both sides seem rather unlikeable. (I look forward to reading your polite emails, Mets fans.) The most recent news — that after Matt Harvey called in sick, the Mets sent security personnel to his home to check on him — only heightens that. Is it rude for an employee to call in sick if they’re not actually sick? Definitely. Is it completely horrible for an employer to send goons to that employee’s home to confirm or deny the alleged sickness? Yep! Everyone is handling this situation perfectly.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Mike Bolsinger (3.82 projected ERA) vs. Carlos Carrasco (3.42 projected ERA)

Remember Mike Bolsinger? After a cup of coffee with Arizona in 2014, he debuted for real with the Dodgers in 2015, and played a surprisingly large role in stabilizing their rotation, throwing more than 100 innings with an ERA and a FIP on the right side of 4.00. You may remember a game where he and Kenley Jansen combined to one-hit the Padres, and in which only 27 opposing batters came to the plate. Last season, Bolsinger struggled for the Dodgers, and was traded to Toronto in exchange for Jesse Chavez, but in AAA thus far, he’s struck out 18 batters and walked only 3 in 12 13 innings. With the Blue Jays rotation beset by injuries, Bolsinger is again being called upon to make a spot start, but the projection systems think he could do a bit more than that.

On the other side is Carlos Carrasco, who needs far more of an introduction than he deserves. Carrasco was pencilled in to start last night, but ended up pushed back, so you get two consecutive paeans to his underrated abilities in this space. Carrasco is a legitimate five-pitch pitcher who, on a rate basis, is one of the top starters in the AL. He’s never reached 200 innings in a season, but his injury last season was a broken hand on a line drive, not the kind of injury that makes you wonder about a player’s durability going forward. Carrasco is great and deserves more appreciation than he gets.