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Launch angles — June 21, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

San Francisco Giants v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/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

Austin Slater goes opposite field for the lead — +.442 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

Making it to the big leagues is an incredible accomplishment, but the cherry on top for Giants rookie Austin Slater? Both of his two career home runs have been featured in our Beyond the Box Score daily recaps! The first was a mammoth 461 foot shot to center field in Milwaukee that was the biggest home run of June 8th. San Francisco may be having a down year, but at least in the future Austin Slater can tell his grandkids about what a force he was in the inaugural “Launch Angles” series.

The Giants had lost seven in a row entering Tuesday’s game against the Braves and were staring loss number eight in the face. Down 2-0 with the tying runs aboard in the top of the eighth inning, Slater offered at the first pitch he saw from Julio Teheran — a fastball right down the middle. Unlike his monster first career home run, Slater’s dinger on Tuesday did not travel far. It was an opposite field shot that measured just 353 feet, but it cleared the fence and that’s all that matters.

Graphic via Baseball Savant

The Giants would hang on to win 6-3, snapping their aforementioned seven game losing streak.

Yesterday’s best game score

Mike Montgomery/Brandon McCarthy — 70

Gif via MLB.com
Gif via MLB.com

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.

While Mike Montgomery and Brandon McCarthy tied for best game score on Tuesday, they also tied for the lowest game score to appear here this season. As mentioned in the above game score explainer, 70 is very good, but it’s not dominant.

Beyond the Box Score co-managing editor Henry Druschel has previously proclaimed in this spot that just as there are no ties in baseball, there shall be no ties in our daily recaps. It’s up to me as the writer on this particular day to choose a winner, so let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Mike Montgomery vs. Brandon McCarthy (6/20)

Pitcher IP H ER BB SO HR Whiffs Opponent Opponent wRC+
Pitcher IP H ER BB SO HR Whiffs Opponent Opponent wRC+
Mike Montgomery 6 3 0 2 4 0 6 Padres 81
Brandon McCarthy 6 4 0 1 4 0 8 Dodgers 101

Wow, those pitching lines are remarkably similar. So we have two pitchers who each threw six scoreless innings and struck out four batters while allowing just five total hits plus walks. Montgomery induced just six swinging strikes, but it’s not like McCarthy’s eight whiffs blow that number out of the water. This is a nail-biter. A totally underwhelming nail-biter.

As you can see from the end of our table, the one key difference in their performances was the opposition each hurler faced. The Mets entered Tuesday night as losers of four of their last five games and are reeling from injuries to Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, but they’re still better than the Padres. The victory for best pitching performance on this night goes to Brandon McCarthy, who — as you might expect — solidified his win with an excellent post-game tweet.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Kennys Vargas — 483 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Would you believe me if I told you that Kennys Vargas had a 120 wRC+ last year? I mean, of course you would, that’d be a weird thing for someone to lie about. And what would be the point? Playing gotcha with Kennys Vargas’ 2016 wRC+ would be the worst prank of all time.

But I digress. What I wanted to do is point out is how inconsistent Vargas has been in his four big league seasons. To be fair, he’s never exceeded 240 plate appearances in any of them, but check out the fluctuation in his wRC+ from year to year.

Chart via FanGraphs

In retrospect, 2014 seems to have been aided by a high BABIP (.340), and 2016 saw Vargas post an uncharacteristically high walk rate (13.6 percent). So while the best bet is probably that he’s a below average hitter, there’s been enough stretches of solid production to remain unsure of his true talent. The point here that just about the only thing you can say with certainty about Kennys Vargas is that he has huge power. A skill he put on full display Tuesday night.

Derek Holland threw Vargas a flat, 85 mile per hour changeup over the middle/bottom third of the plate and knew it was gone instantly. The ball left the bat at 114 miles per hour and ended up 483 feet away in an area of Target Field fittingly labeled “Home Run Porch.” It was the third longest home run of the year, trailing only dingers from Aaron Judge and Keon Broxton.

Is Kennys Vargas good enough to be an everyday player in the big leagues? I suspect not, but concede that the jury is still out. His power, though? As Derek Holland will attest, there’s no doubt about his power.

SABRy tidbits

  • Who is Cleveland’s best player? Francisco Lindor is your most likely gut reaction, but they’re a great team with plenty of viable candidates. While he’s not the most obvious choice, Beyond the Box Score’s own Merritt Rohlfing takes to the pages of Let’s Go Tribe to argue that currently, that title belongs to Jose Ramirez.
  • Much has been made about the “fly ball revolution,” but most of the time it’s discussed from the hitter’s perspective. Over at DRays Bay, Beyond the Box Score contributor Jim Turvey looks at the effect it’s having on Jake Odorizzi, who is more reliant than most on high fastballs.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Max Scherzer (3.06 projected ERA) vs. Dan Straily (4.23 projected ERA)

Must we go over this every five days? Max Scherzer is awesome and in the midst of his best year ever. Great. That’s settled. Let’s talk about Dan Straily.

Straily showed flashes of greatness in his first couple of seasons with the Athletics, but could never quite harness it to stick in the majors. After bouncing around the league, Straily enlisted the help of Kyle Boddy and Driveline Baseball to get his fastball velocity back where it needed to be in order to be effective. When he was still with FanGraphs, August Fagerstrom wrote in great detail about Straily’s regimen with Driveline.

Now with the Marlins, Straily is thriving and finally fulfilling that promise he showed early in his career. He owns a 3.58 ERA, a 3.73 FIP, and is striking out a career-high 25.1 percent of opposing batters. His 1.6 fWAR is double that of the next highest Marlins pitcher, Edinson Volquez.

Max Scherzer is almost always going to be the best pitcher in a given matchup and that remains true on Wednesday. But don’t sleep on Dan Straily, he’s come a long way and is having a career year.


Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.