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Launch angles — June 10, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/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

Jackie Bradley Jr. seizes a late lead — +.369 WPA

I saw this home run, and as a late, tie-breaking blast deep to right, thought it was a possible contender for both this spot in the recap and the longest home run. You’ll have to read on to find about the latter, but it was indeed the single most impactful play of the night, as it took the Red Sox from tied to up two with just a single inning to go.

Alex Wilson’s pitch is an illustration of the dangers inherent in the popular current strategy of throwing fastballs at the top of the zone. It requires great precision: too high, and hitters won’t chase, but too low, and something like this could happen.

As much as any home run is, this was a no-doubter the minute it left the bat. Having to find something to say about dozens of home runs in a year means that I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the aesthetics of dingers in the recaps this season, and I’ll do it again here, because this was a beautiful home run. Bradley’s swing was quick and precise, and the ball leapt off the bat, landing deep in the right field bleachers. The Boston outfielder had a rough start to the season, but over the last 20 games his wRC+ has been an excellent 148, and his season line is up to a barely below-average 99. Bradley’s profile is somewhat familiar — high walks, high strikeouts, lots of swings-and-misses but good zone discrimination nonetheless — and it relies on power to be successful. That archetype can be a streaky one, but it looks like Bradley is going through a hot streak at the moment, and that’s great news for the Red Sox.

Yesterday’s best game score

Ervin Santana goes the distance with a Maddux — 89

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance, and recently updated by Tom Tango. The score begins at 40, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, runs, and home runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

Santana has appeared in this slot several times now, and his line from last night is similar to the other ones we’ve seen him achieve: a complete game, only five strikeouts, but just four hits, one walk, and no runs. The Twins have an above-average defense by FanGraphs’ Def through the first third of 2017, but not an outstanding one, so it may be that Santana himself deserves a chunk of credit for letting batters make contact but limiting the authority with which they do so and allowing few hits as a result. It’s not as if this was a one-start aberration; Santana has a minuscule .154 BABIP for the year, the lowest of any qualified starter by almost 50 points. And indeed, DRA (Baseball Prospectus’s pitching metric, which seeks to control for every possible variable and determine how much a pitcher deserves credit for anything that happens while he’s on the mound) likes Santana pretty well, pegging him as nearly 25 percent above average.

In any case, last night Santana was in peak contact-limiting form, which also allowed him to be incredibly efficient. He pounded the zone, throwing strikes on 72.5 percent of his pitches, and ended the game with just 91 pitches, well under the 99-pitch threshold for a Maddux. When he did miss, it was purposeful, trying to get righties to chase sliders breaking out of the zone and generate weak contact or a whiff:

The Twins are still hanging on to first in the NL Central, and Santana’s 2.20 ERA is a big part of that. The skinny righty has shouldered a large portion of the load facing Minnesota — this was his third complete game in just 13 starts — and the result is a 31–26 record and a 1.5-game lead on the Indians and a 3.5-game lead on the Tigers. FanGraphs’ playoff projections put them at 12.6 percent to make the postseason, and Baseball Prospectus’s at 31.2 percent. It’s still a longshot, but Minnesota might be playing interesting and important baseball throughout the season, thanks in large part to performances like this one from Santana.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Jonathan Schoop — 454 feet

Another very lovely, and very deep, home run. At 454 feet, it beat out Bradley’s by 19 feet, and beat Steven Souza’s for the Rays by a single foot. Schoop knows what he’s done as soon as he makes contact, and maybe even before; he recognized this changeup from what looks like a mile out, and as it breaks in over the lower part of the plate, he pulls the trigger on his swing with relish and sends the pitch flying.

Things were looking good for the Orioles. Facing Jordan Montgomery, a Yankees rookie (who has been surprisingly good but certainly not great), they took a 2–0 lead with nobody out in the second. But alas, those would be the last runs the Orioles would score all night. Montgomery turned in a fine performance, outside of this one pitch, going seven innings with eight strikeouts, one walk, and just these two runs. Instead, it was Baltimore’s pitching staff that got knocked around, with starter Dylan Bundy giving up two home runs, and Edwin Jackson allowing a third.

The loss put the Orioles 4.5 games back from the Yankees in the AL East, and 1.5 games behind the Red Sox for second place (and the first Wild Card slot). It feels like the kind of playoff picture that has bedeviled Baltimore frequently over the last 15 years, and in a chance to climb up the standings by beating New York directly, the Orioles whiffed. But hey, at least they had this giant home run to enjoy!

SABRy tidbits

  • At Talking Chop, Ivan the Great digs into an instance of clever bullpen management by Braves skipper Brian Snitker. It’s a useful reminder of the complexity of such decisions, and the numbers of variables that managers have to balance, and of what exactly it means to use a bullpen well.
  • Nick Cicere of Camden Chat (and a BtBS alum) has a message for Kevin Gausman: use all your dang pitches. Gausman has a high-velocity fastball, so perhaps it’s understandable that he can lean on it heavily. But Nick makes a convincing case that his secondary stuff is critical for Gausman to be truly successful.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Chris Sale (2.88 projected ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (3.88 projected ERA)

It’s Chris Sale night in America. He’s taken up undisputed dominance of this spot in the recap, with almost every one of his starts getting highlighted as worth watching. And with good reason! Sale has had a few “rocky” starts in the last month, by his extremely unrealistic standards, but his season line is still incredible, and intimidating to anyone going up against him. His fWAR of 3.6 leads all of MLB’s pitchers by a full win over second place, and all of its position players too. There really isn’t much of a reason not to watch Sale pitch, beyond not liking dominant pitching.

And with Sale is the current favorite for both the Cy Young and MVP, he’s going up against someone who has won both already in Justin Verlander, recipient of them both in 2011. The 34-year-old has had a bumpy few years, with 2014 and 2015 looking rather mediocre, 2016 looking like a resurgence, and 2017 (so far) looking more like the former than the latter. He’s sitting on a 4.55 FIP and 4.63 ERA, a far cry from the player who dominated the AL from 2009 to 2013. Verlander’s biggest problem this season has been his 10.7 percent walk rate, but the projections look to his track record and think it’ll fall going forward. He was pulled early in his previous start with groin tightness, but is staying in his scheduled spot in the rotation. Hopefully he’ll give us a glimpse of the old Verlander, and deliver a pitching matchup for the ages.