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Launch angles — June 13, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/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

Tyler Flowers takes the lead in the 9th — +.636 WPA

This game had already taken a few twists and turns by the time Flowers homered, and it wasn’t done yet. Neither starter performed well, with Mike Foltynewicz getting knocked out after just 3 13 innings and Stephen Strasburg giving up six runs over 5 innings. The Nats emerged from the fray with a 9–6 lead, and they seemed very likely to emerge victorious. But the Braves chipped away, and cut the lead to one by the ninth. Nonetheless, when Flowers stepped to the plate, the Nationals seemed secure, with an estimated 71.8 percent shot at victory; by the time he crossed the plate, it was down to 8.2 percent. Washington would make some noise in the bottom of the ninth, with Bryce Harper coming to the plate with the tying run on first and two outs, but end up losing 11–10.

The Nationals bullpen is having a rough go of it. Matt Albers was (surprisingly) one of its bright spots, and even after this three-run shot added over a run to his ERA, it still sits at a very respectable 2.10. (Sidebar: the more advanced metrics like Albers too, with FIP putting him at a 3.23 and DRA at a 2.58; maybe he should be taking the ninth more often, last night’s blown save notwithstanding.) Maybe that’s actually the story of the Nats’ bullpen in a nutshell: pitchers who seem good, and seemingly have been good, dropping the ball in critical situations. I was at the game on Saturday when Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley let the Rangers tie the game in the 9th and take the lead in the 11th, respectively, but while Glover has a unsightly 5.12 ERA, both FIP (2.64) and DRA (2.88) think he’s been much better than it would have you think. I’m sure it’s cold comfort to Nationals fans who are reeling from the teams’ 11 blown saves (fifth-highest in the majors), but Albers and Glover are better than they might appear, and things should improve going forward.

I shouldn’t take anything away from Tyler Flowers, however, as he’s in the midst of a full-blown breakout. He’s up to a wRC+ of 149, product of a .338/.442/.468 triple slash, and Baseball Prospectus thinks his framing has been its usual above-average self. The result is a player who’s been worth 3.0 WARP in just 160 PAs (and that’s before BP has updated to include Monday’s stats, and thus the home run pictured above), good for 11th in the majors. The Braves have to be pretty happy about the $5m they’ve paid for his services in 2016 and 2017, and about the $4m option they have for Flowers in 2018. I wouldn’t be stunned to see him head elsewhere at some point in the next six weeks, as the Braves try to capitalize on his hot start and plan for 2019 and beyond.

Yesterday’s best game score

Yu Darvish stifles the Astros — 75

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.

I’m going to make a possibly controversial statement: this start from Darvish bums me out. Facing the Astros, he went seven innings with four strikeouts, three walks, one hit, and just one run. That’s a very good start! But it’s a good start mostly because the fielders behind Darvish did a good job of hoovering up the balls the Astros put into play, not because Darvish prevented Houston from putting balls into play at all. In the Texas righty’s last year of his contract, he’s been either excellent or merely solid, depending on whether you believe most in his 3.03 ERA, 4.09 FIP, or 2.86 DRA. His strikeout rate through yesterday’s start is 25.8 percent, a substantial drop from the low-30s figures he posted in 2013, 2014, and his partial time in 2016. His walks haven’t offset the drop with a fall of their own, and the result is the worst K:BB ratio we’ve seen in a while from Darvish.

In that context, this start is a bummer, because instead of relying on a dizzying and deceptive array of pitches to slice through a lineup with a pile of strikeouts, Darvish relied on balls in play, which is (in my aesthetic and not necessarily analytic opinion) not as good. It’s also not clear that this is a skill Darvish can really claim; his career BABIP of .286 is low, but nowhere near as low as his .230 for 2017 alone (and definitely not as low as the BABIP of .056 he allowed in yesterday’s game). Even DRA — which, as a reminder, thinks he’s pitched 38 percent better than average — thinks his contribution through hits allowed is just not particularly large, and smaller than his contribution through strike outs and walks. (The nature of DRA is such that I can’t dig into why it thinks those things, though, so analyzing why that might be will have to be an exercise left to the imagination of the reader.)

Looking at this start specifically, one can find some support for the idea that Darvish deserves credit for the Astros’ lack of hits and authoritative contact. He certainly had a plan for facing the Houston batters: work low and away, with whatever he was throwing.

Darvish is still great, and if he does end up traded (as seems plausible), whatever team lands him will be very happy about it. I should not be ungrateful about yesterday’s start, which was still quite good, just because Darvish is capable of something better. But I would be very happy if he could regain his 2012–14 form.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Hanley Ramirez — 452 feet

Ramirez has been dealing with shoulder trouble this year, and the result has been a disappointing .249/.350/.420 triple slash, a line that’s fine (and precisely league average, according to wRC+) but not what you’re looking for from a DH. If there’s a reason for optimism in Boston, however, it’s that Ramirez has absolutely destroyed a baseball on multiple occasions now; in addition to this blast, he had a 469-footer from late April. (That shot somehow didn’t make the recap because not one but two longer home runs were hit that day, a 470-footer from Ryan Zimmermann and a 481-footer from Jake Lamb. April 29th was lit, apparently.) If he can do this, something in his shoulder can clearly work sometimes; it’s seemingly a matter of consistency, not ability.

I encourage you to watch the video of this blast, if only for the sound made when Hanley sends this baseball back into the stratosphere. You can probably imagine it from the GIF; this is such a clean swing, such a smooth moment of contact, such a perfect transfer of energy to the baseball, and the sound that results matches it. I suppose that’s what happens when you throw an 86mph slider that, instead of sliding out of the zone, slides right into the middle of it. I thought about doing that thing where I download the zone plot of this plate appearance, and draw a crappy sad face in MS Paint to highlight the location of this slider, but you can see it very clearly in the above GIF, so I’m not going to bother. (If you think that sort of thing is funny, just imagine it; if you think it’s annoying, you’re welcome.) The upshot: don’t groove sliders like this!!

SABRy tidbits

  • With the first rounds of the draft happening yesterday, and the later rounds continuing into today, there’s not much in the news beyond breakdowns of each team’s pick. If you’re interested in a wide-angle look, you should check out Minor League Ball, where Michael Cook ranked 506 prospects, somehow, enough to cover the first 15ish rounds. Write-ups for more than 200 of them are available as well.
  • Alternately, if you want the quick-and-dirty analysis of the draft, check out Grant Brisbee’s letter grades for each of the first 30 picks. As always, the insight is prodigious.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Trevor Bauer (4.23 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.56 projected ERA)

Trevor Bauer is fine, probably, but he’s currently sitting on a 6.10 ERA. The projections unsurprisingly don’t think he’s quite as bad as that might suggest, but they aren’t exactly impressed with him either. He’s not the reason to watch this game, though, so we don’t really have to talk about him.

I also don’t really have to talk much about Clayton Kershaw, because you know who he is and what he can do. His 2017 has been a little rough, but that’s mostly the result of an inflated home run rate; through roughly a third of the season, he’s given up 12 dingers, just four fewer than his previous high in a full season. But Kershaw is still fundamentally the same pitcher he’s been for the last six years: the best pitcher in MLB, hands down. And most exciting for those of us on the east coast, he’s playing in Cleveland, with a start time of 7:10pm EST instead of the usual post-10pm start.