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
Keon Broxton fends off the Padres for the moment — +.451 WPA
This has been one hell of a series for the Brewers and Padres. On Friday, the teams were tied 4-4 after seven; Yangervis Solarte put San Diego ahead with a solo shot in the top of the eighth, but Manny Pina followed suit in the bottom half. The game went to extra innings, where Eric Thames mashed a walk-off homer and earned the top spot in our recap.
The theatrics returned on Saturday. Deadlocked at three runs apiece through nine, the Brewers and Padres started playing free baseball. After Wil Myers worked a walk off Carlos Torres, Solarte cracked another four-bagger — his second of the day and third of the series — to give his team a 5-3 edge. Bud Black left Brandon Maurer in to close things out, and that’s when things really got thrilling.
Maurer started out the frame by hitting Nick Franklin with a pitch that was way inside:
No big deal, really — he still had a two-run advantage with only three outs to go. Undaunted, Maurer said hello to Broxton with a blazing fastball at the letters:
Maurer loves the high heat, so he figured he’d return to that well for the second pitch. But this one didn’t go quite as high as its predecessor:
And that lack of height allowed Broxton to catch up with it, launching it over the fence and evening the score yet again. Milwaukee couldn’t win the game in this inning, though, and that would be its last chance to do so, as Cory Spangenberg and Chase d’Arnaud hit home runs in the top of the 11th to give San Diego the 7-5 victory.
Will the Brew Crew and the Friars have more thrilling exploits for us today? In the rubber match, with breakout starter Jimmy Nelson and quasi-breakout starter Luis Perdomo squaring off, anything’s possible. For a regular ol’ matchup between a rebuilding club and a possible contender, this one has had a ton of drama.
Yesterday’s best game score
Alex Meyer — 79
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.
Meyer is the sort of pitcher for whom the term “effectively wild” applies. Heading into this game, he had a respectable 4.05 ERA and 4.21 FIP, with a 25.4 percent strikeout rate and 16.0 percent walk rate. He didn’t throw the ball over the plate that often (46.5 percent zone rate), and his 24.4 percent chase rate was subpar too; he survived by getting some called and swinging strikes but couldn’t really stand out.
That made the Royals — who have had the worst walk rate in MLB for each of the past four seasons — his perfect opponent. Meyer made Kansas City look silly on Saturday, twirling six shutout innings, collecting nine strikeouts, and most importantly, issuing just one walk for the first time this year. It was the best start of his young career, and his second appearance on the Launch Angles Game Score of the day, after his strong effort against the Tigers back in May.
As the above GIF might indicate, this game was a Rich Hill Specialty for Meyer. Fifty of his 94 pitches — a full 53.2 percent — were curveballs. He’s thrown a ton of curves before, but never this many. Those curves went up, down, in, and out:
Meyer got a ridiculous 18 whiffs on his curveball, as well as seven called strikes and 34 strikes overall. While his fastball mix was pretty solid, too — he threw 44 four- and two-seamers combined, which chipped in 28 strikes and nine looks — the breaking ball confounded the Royals throughout the day. A team that refuses to take a walk, plus a pitcher who loves to throw his curveball in the dirt, equals a whole lot of zeros.
Of course, Meyer won’t get to face K.C. every time through the rotation. His next start is slated to be Friday against the Red Sox, who have the seventh-highest walk rate in the majors. Still, we can’t take this game away from him. For the season, he’s now at a more-than-respectable 3.52 ERA and 3.75 FIP, having increased his strikeout rate to 27.1 percent and lowered his walk rate to 14.8 percent. I’d say “impressively wild” is the more apt descriptor for Meyer.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Mike Zunino — 463 feet
Zunino, like many Mariners players, had a rough start to the 2017 season. Through May 4, he was hitting .167/.250/.236, which is why the team demoted him to Triple A. He had a decent 35.7 percent hard-hit rate, but his 38.1 percent ground ball rate prevented him from tapping into his power potential.
Mike Z has proven he can hit in the minors, and he crushed in his stint with Tacoma, smacking five home runs in 45 plate appearances for a .293/.356/.707 triple-slash. The M’s called him back up on May 22; since then, he’s looked like a whole new player. Over 80 plate appearances prior to Saturday, he’d hit .329/.375/.644, putting the ball on the ground 26.2 percent of the time and making hard contact 45.9 percent of the time.
All of this is to say: Martin Perez, when you got a full count with a four-run lead against this guy, you don’t want to try and sneak a changeup by him:
With this blast, Zunino has improved his batting line for the season as a whole to .248/.311/.456, which translates to a 107 wRC+. Sure, he has almost six times as many strikeouts as walks, but if he keeps swatting dingers like these, plate discipline won’t be his concern. Zunino is hitting the ball in the air with more authority than ever, and Perez — and the rest of the AL West — better take note.
- Jedd Gyorko is something of a controversial hitter ‘round these parts; Shawn Brody and I have conflicting takes on the legitimacy of the Cardinals second baseman. There’s another element to his season that neither of us explored: He’s been super streaky. Viva El Birdos’s Ben Markham finds out more on that point.
- Michael Fulmer won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2016, and he’s sustained the momentum in 2017, with a 3.45 ERA and 3.11 FIP through 86 innings. How has Fulmer kept hitters guessing? BtBS’s Ron Wolschleger, writing for Bless You Boys, knows the answer — his four-seam fastball is nastier than ever before.
- Jason Kipnis was awful to start the season, so Terry Francona made him the Indians’ leadoff hitter. Sound stupid? It’s actually worked out great! Let’s Go Tribe/BtBS writer Merritt Rohlfing has more on Tito’s Yostian exploits.
Today’s best pitching matchup
Joe Ross (4.07 projected ERA) vs. Jacob deGrom (3.49 projected ERA)
The two right-handers taking the hill in this NL East matchup have a few things in common. Each has a career-best strikeout rate — Ross has jumped to 22.2 percent, while deGrom has surged to 28.8 percent. Each has struggled despite those Ks, with sky-high BABIPs (.359 for Ross, .332 for deGrom) and home run/fly ball rates (20.0 percent for Ross, 19.7 percent for deGrom). It’s a strange combination; they’re simultaneously more hittable and less hittable than ever.
Of course, these hurlers have their differences as well. deGrom has walked nearly twice as many batters (9.8 percent) as Ross (5.2 percent), but the former also has a much higher strand rate (78.3 percent) than the latter (66.0 percent). That — and the overall gaps in strikeout rate, BABIP, and home run/fly ball rate — is why Ross has an ERA nearly two runs higher than deGrom. The projections take the upside on these starters, though; if we buy ZiPS and Steamer, the Mets-Nats duel will be a low-scoring affair.