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
Welington Castillo turns the tables — +.419
The nature of win probability is such that many of these plays share things in common. They tend to be offensive plays, not defensive; they tend to come in the late innings, when a lead change is most likely to determine a game. And they tend to come with two outs, because those are the situations where things can go either very well or very poorly for the pitching team. They are always just one out from getting out of the inning intact. And the nature of this recap is that we rarely see the times when the defending team does survive. Instead, it’s crushing defeats, over and over again.
Miguel González needed just one more out. And really, it shouldn’t have been too hard, facing Welington Castillo and his career .318 OBP. This fastball was supposed to be down, and away or even off the plate, but as it approaches home, you can see Omar Narváez’s glove drift up and in until it’s square in the middle of the plate. Castillo might not be a contact machine, but pipe shot fastballs are not too difficult to run into, and Castillo can certainly unleash some power when he collars a pitch like this.
But other than the two outs, the situation is actually somewhat abnormal for this portion of the recap. The 5th is pretty earlier for the biggest play of the night, and Castillo’s grand slam made it more on the back of its crushing impact than the timing of it. In any inning, a grand slam that takes a team from down one to up three is going to be a hefty swing. I wouldn’t have blamed the White Sox for just going home at that point, but they stuck it out for the remaining four innings, going on to lose 10-6.
Yesterday’s best game score (TIE)
Corey Kluber/Jordan Zimmermann — 76
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.
As I said the last time two pitchers tied for the best game score: there are no ties in baseball! It falls to us to break this, through the highly rigorous and fair method of arbitrarily deciding which of these pitchers actually had the better night.
Kluber seven-inning effort had ten strikeouts along with four hits, one walk, and two runs. Zimmermann has an extra inning over Kluber, and in his eight innings of work, he had fewer strikeouts (six), more hits (six), but no walks, and the same number of runs (two). From a pure pitching line standpoint, these outings are very similar (which is of course is why they ended up with identical game scores). That means that determining who truly belongs in this part of the recap comes down to aesthetics alone.
Zimmermann’s main out pitch was his slider, as shown above inducing a whiff from Goldschmidt. Along with his curveball and fastball, the slider rounds out the main part of the Tigers righty’s arsenal. His plan last night was simple: throw the fastball up and in, throw the slider down and away, and sneak the curveball into the bottom half of the zone to grab easy strikes and keep the Diamondback hitters off balance.
Kluber, on the other hand, spread his attack out more, using five different pitches to slice through the Dodgers’ line up. He actually used his curveball most often (31 times), which makes sense when you consider the nine whiffs and five fouls it induced. Kluber’s other main pitch was his cutter, thrown 28 times and also inducing nine whiffs on the night. His diverse repertoire means that, in the relatively small velocity band between 85 and 95 mph, Kluber can pick from a number of different looks. With two strikes, a batter could be facing an 85mph curve that breaks hard to the first base box, or an 89mph cutter that has similar spin and vertical movement but breaks much less. Trying to defend against both of those simultaneously cannot be easy for a batter.
Ultimately, this is a pretty easy choice for me. Kluber’s strikeouts more than make up for his lesser longevity, in my mind, and his 22 whiffs dwarf Zimmermann’s 11. Both Kluber and Zimmermann have had disappointing 2017’s, but Kluber has the more recent track record of excellence, so it’s also easier for me to believe he deserved this while Zimmermann perhaps was the beneficiary of some real luck. They both had great nights though! Everyone should feel good about themselves.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Kyle Schwarber — 467 feet
I’m feeling cranky, so here’s a take: this home run is not that great. It got blasted all over social media as soon as it was hit, and yes, it travelled a long way. (Not as far as other home runs hit this year, such as this blast from Aaron Judge, MLB’s true Large Adult Son, but I digress.) Distance alone is not enough for a home run to really grab me, though. Statcast has encouraged us all to parse distinctions down to the foot, but I cannot really tell the difference between a 450-foot home run and a 480-foot home run.
And aside from the distance, this home run doesn’t have much going for it. Schwarber’s swing is fine, but nothing more. He doesn’t flip his bat, or strut out of the box. And worst of all (though this isn’t Schwarber’s fault), I can’t track the ball in the slightest. I think the combination of the stadium, the camera work, and the time of day make the actual baseball entirely invisible. Maybe that’s a sign of how far it went, and how impressive it is, but I say this ball could’ve gone foul by 50 feet and nobody watching on TV would’ve known. A unscrupulous cameraman (with a willing producer) could trick us into thinking every non-grounder is a mammoth home run. Is that what happened here? I don’t know. I’m just asking questions.
But this portion of the recap is for the longest home run of the night, not the most lovely, so Schwarber’s shot gets highlighted, despite my dissatisfaction. It did go a really long distance. I cannot deny that. Matt Harvey, I’m sure you’re getting advice from just about everyone right now, but that is not the proper place to throw a changeup. If you insist on throwing changeups into the lower-middle part of the zone, Kyle Schwarber is going to hit them 600 feet, and the New York press will get mad at you. There will be a Daily News back cover featuring Schwarber in a Superman costume and a headline about him killing the Dark Knight, and everyone will hate it. Save us from that fate. Don’t throw changeups straight through the strike zone.
- Merritt Rohfling, who is a BtBS contributor as well as a writer at Let’s Go Tribe, is great. This article, on Carlos Santana’s 2017 struggles, is also great. It boils down to the way he’s been pitched, and his inability thus far to adjust to those adjustments, and Merritt does a great job of illustrating precisely what those changes have been and will need to be.
- One of the best parts of being a rebuilding team is getting to try all the weird strategies that a team competing for the playoffs will be too risk-averse to go anywhere near. In that vein, Kyle Parmey of Talking Chop writes that the Braves are thinking about trying a six-man rotation when Bartolo Colón returns from the disabled list. It’s not the most experimental of tactics, but it’s still cool, and hopefully a harbinger of other, more interesting things to come.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Nick Pivetta (4.66 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.88 projected ERA)
Congratulations to Nick Pivetta and the Phillies for their first appearance in this section of the recap! (I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s very believable, and that’s the point.) Pivetta is actually kind of interesting; after being traded from the Nats to the Phillies in 2015, he had a great stretch at AAA at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, with 10.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, and a 1.91 ERA. His call-up has not gone great so far, but the Phillies can afford to take some time throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what ends up sticking; Pivetta could be sticky.
But this matchup is about Chris Sale. It feels like, every week, I write some variation on this blurb, but I can’t imagine putting that much effort into trying to convince you to watch the hottest pitcher in MLB. If you haven’t wanted to in the past — maybe you find his herky-jerky windup so horrifying that you can’t bear it — nothing I say will make you do it. But if, somehow, you’ve just been noncommittal about Sale nights, may I direct you to his 35.3 percent strikeout rate, his 4.8 percent walk rate, his 43 FIP- (57 percent better than average), and his 37 DRA- (63 percent better than average)? He’s crazy good, and crazy fun to watch. He is a buzzsaw; the Phillies lineup is a pile of damp tissue paper. It’ll probably be carnage, and I can’t imagine missing it.