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Launch angles — June 12, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Los Angeles Dodgers
Woo, indeed.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

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

Corey Seager hits a go-ahead grand slam — +.586 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

The Dodgers have had some crazy comebacks this year — remember their back-to-back-to-back home runs against the Phillies, or their ninth-inning rally over the Brewers? — but this one might be the craziest. They’re now tied for second in the majors* with four appearances on the Launch Angles top play spot, and what an effort it took to get them there.

*The Yankees have five appearances here; the Athletics, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Reds each have four.

It didn’t look like a comeback was in store at first (as is usually the case). Cincinnati led 7-3 through seven innings, thanks to four home runs interspersed throughout the game. Los Angeles started cooking in the eighth, though. First, Cody Bellinger hit a solo shot off Austin Brice, narrowing the gap to 7-4. After Yasmani Grandal followed that up with a single, Bryan Price brought in Raisel Iglesias for the five-out save.

From the outset, the Dodgers made Iglesias work. Yasiel Puig, Enrique Hernandez, and Chase Utley worked three straight walks, and Iglesias threw a combined 23 pitches to them. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that he served up a meatball for pitch 24:

Image via Brooks Baseball

The patient approach didn’t really suit Seager. His salami put the Dodgers ahead for the first time in the game, and a 1-2-3 Kenley Jansen ninth gave the team the sweep. Don’t count out the Cardiac Corey — he’ll bring the team back from the brink, no matter the odds.

Yesterday’s best game score

TIE: Robbie Ray/Ivan Nova — 78

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.

These are two pitchers heading in opposite directions — Ray is pitching better than ever, while Nova hasn’t maintained the promise he showed last year. On Sunday, though, each of them dominated in his own way. Ray allowed three hits and four walks in 6 23 innings, but that came with 12 strikeouts; Nova had only four Ks to his name, but he also gave up a lone hit and no free passes through six frames.

Ray’s always been the effectively wild sort, and his outing against the Brewers was no different. His curveball, which has served as his out pitch this year, went below the zone more often than it hit it:

Image via Baseball Savant

And that approach paid off — not only did Ray get 16 whiffs on 46 curves, he threw 74 of 108 pitches for strikes. In this case, the emphasis was on the “effective” part, rather than the “wild.”

Nova, on the other hand, attacked the Marlins head-on. He had his sinker working in the strike zone, forcing them to swing:

Image via Baseball Savant

Miami batters put the two-seamer in play 11 times; only one of those resulted in a hit. That’s how Nova was able to make it through six innings on only 77 pitches.

Thanks to their success yesterday, both Ray (2.62) and Nova (2.83) have top-10 ERAs in the NL. The peripherals are another story — the former has a much lower xFIP than the latter — but for one day, at least, they each cruised equally. You can skin a cat by overpowering hitters, or by pitching to contact; Ray and Nova have each found a flaying method that works for them.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 495 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Heading into the 2017 season, Gary Sanchez was the talk of baseball. The Yankees slugger had one of the best partial-season debuts in recent memory, hitting .299/.376/.657. He racked up 3.2 fWAR in just 229 plate appearances, more than AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer (3.0), who played a full season. Sanchez turned 24 in December, and in his sophomore campaign, the sky appeared to be the limit.

And sure enough, Sanchez has excelled in 2017 — even before Sunday, he owned a .279/.363/.519 triple-slash and 1.2 fWAR in 142 plate appearances. The projections, always pessimistic, nevertheless think he’ll finish the season as a 3.7-fWAR player. Sanchez has played like a star, but nobody has noticed, because Judge keeps stealing the show.

Sunday’s events encapsulated this handily. In the first inning against Kevin Gausman, Sanchez worked the count to 1-1. Gausman, as is his wont, tried to overpower him with a heater right down the middle. Sanchez laughed and did this:

GIF via MLB.com

This is a long home run, a really long home run. Before today, we’d done — I kid you not — 69 of these Launch Angle recaps; a 450-foot blast would have taken the top spot in 31 of them. But Judge wouldn’t let Sanchez have the spotlight; he turned on a Logan Verrett slider and deposited it in the back of the Yankee Stadium bleachers.

Sanchez keeps hitting well, and he deserves recognition. He didn’t hit the longest home run in the Statcast era, though. Judge is now at .344/.450/.718, with 0.5 more fWAR than Sanchez had last year (in 20 more plate appearances). Sorry, Kraken, but the court has ruled against you.

SABRy tidbits

  • Of course, Judge and Sanchez aren’t the only two youngsters turning heads in New York. That Jordan Montgomery fella is doing pretty well for himself, putting up a 3.55 ERA and 3.53 FIP in 63 13 innings. Pinstripe Alley’s Brock Hammond argues Montgomery has been the best non-Judge rookie in the Junior Circuit.
  • The White Sox kept on hearing offers for Jose Quintana over the offseason, then eventually held onto him. Now he’s having the worst year of his career. South Side Sox’s pnoles thinks the team should cut its losses and trade him now before he gets even closer to free agency.
  • Will we ever get robot umpires? German Marquez probably hopes so — a bunch of calls went against him on Friday, allowing the Cubs to take an early lead over the Rockies. But no individual umpire is the problem, Purple Row’s Ryan Schoppe argues; the trouble lies within the system itself.

Today’s best pitching matchup

John Lackey (4.03 projected ERA) vs. Jacob deGrom (3.46 projected ERA)

The 2017 season hasn’t gone as planned for either of these right-handers — they have respective ERAs of 5.12 and 4.75. But their projections haven’t changed to the same degree: deGrom’s forecasted ERA was 3.44 before the season, while Lackey’s was 3.74. Why are Steamer and ZiPS optimistic about the former and pessimistic about the latter?

Two reasons come to mind. While both pitchers have struggled with hits and home runs this year, deGrom has a career-high 29.9 percent strikeout rate, while Lackey’s K rate (23.3 percent) is lower than last year. And Lackey is 38, whereas deGrom will turn 29 next week, so one might be further gone than the other. Still, the duel between the Cubs and the Mets should be an entertaining one — a crafty veteran versus a young flamethrower.


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.