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Launch angles — June 22, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-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

Salvador Pérez hits a salami — +.413 WPA

MLB.com

Grand slams have a tendency to cause big swings in win probability. With the Royals down two when Pérez came to bat, everyone in the stadium had the math running through their head: a home run would mean a perfect reversal, from trailing by two to leading by two, and with just an inning to go. The groundwork for this swing had been laid in the previous three PAs, however, with a trio of walks making the win probability graph in the 8th look like a cliff:

For the Red Sox, this was the sort of inning that makes fans scream at their televisions and radios, and wonder why they couldn’t just take the mound and throw meatball strikes. These are the Royals, owner of a league-trailing 6.6 percent walk rate. But somehow, Matt Barnes started the inning by walking Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain, and when Robby Scott came in to help escape the jam, he promptly walked Eric Hosmer, bringing Pérez to the plate with the bases loaded.

I am a Red Sox fan by birth, and I admit: as I was listening to this PA, I was, shall we say, loudly urging my radio (and, by extension, Scott) to throw a friggin’ strike. Pérez is having a very good year, offensively, but he’s still not someone I would consider a huge threat, and walking in a run seemed like a very real possibility. I was throughly owned, therefore, by this grand slam, seeing as it was a direct result of Scott’s strike. If there’s one thing Pérez is not, it’s patient, and his 3.9 percent walk rate/17.5 percent strikeout rate should’ve given Boston a path out of the jam. Instead, Scott threw nine fastballs, without a single breaking ball or offspeed pitch mixed in, and Pérez eventually caught one. After my demand that Scott throw a strike, he did, and it promptly got hit over the left field fence for a home run. I got owned.

After the win, the Royals are just one game below .500, and 3.5 games back of Cleveland in the AL Central. Some people will tell you that this is actually a bad thing, since it could cause the Royals to over-estimate their chances of making the playoffs and make subpar decisions at the trade deadline. I am here to tell you that this is actually a good-as-hell thing, since a) it means the Royals are actually more likely to make the playoffs, though it’s still unlikely; and b) it is good and fun for baseball teams to win games and not be completely awful. Hard decisions at the trade deadline are a small price to pay for exciting baseball.

Yesterday’s best game score

Max Scherzer — 87

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.

MLB.com

This was a tough one for the Nats, who have experienced enough bad luck and painful defeats that you’d expect them to have a worse record than 43–29. (It feels like at least a third of those losses have been late-inning comebacks.) Yesterday, Max Scherzer dominated, taking a no-hitter into the 8th and generally slicing through the Marlins lineup. He also took the loss, after allowing two runs in the 8th. Rough.

Scherzer’s final line featured eleven strikeouts, one walk, two hits, and two runs. The 8th started fine, with A.J. Ellis breaking up the no-hitter with an infield single but Scherzer still getting two quick outs. Then an E6, a HBP, a wild pitch, and a Giancarlo Stanton single took the Nationals from up one to down one in just a few minutes. In a twisted sort of way, this being a no-hitter ended up hurting Scherzer and the Nationals; if one of those hits came in an earlier inning, it wouldn’t have been clustered in the 8th alongside all the other oddities that let the Marlins take the lead. It was very strange to turn on the radio for the 8th, hoping to hear Scherzer claim his third no-hitter, and instead hear him take the loss.

But the fact that the 8th didn’t turn out how Scherzer wanted it shouldn’t distract us from how good this start was. He leaned hard on his fourseamer, throwing it 54 times and getting an impressive 12 whiffs. When a pitcher’s main “I need a strike” pitch is also a swing-and-miss pitch, he’s got the ability to do some nasty stuff. And in the same way, when a pitcher’s main “I want a whiff pitch” can also stay in the zone — Scherzer threw his slider 42 times, with a whopping 33 strikes and a just-as-whopping 13 whiffs — a no-hitter starts to sound pretty plausible. Scherzer threw just 24 pitches that weren’t his fourseamer or slider, because why wouldn’t you? It wasn’t quite good enough yesterday afternoon, but only because of some very bad luck and a great day for the Marlins pitchers.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Andrew Benintendi — 454 feet

Back before the fly ball revolution was the story of 2017, the story of 2016 was little guys with great contact skills suddenly developing power and turning into all-around offensive forces. Mookie Betts was probably the poster child, thanks to his surprising 31 home runs and .216 ISO, combined with his 5’9” stature, but Brian Dozier (42 home runs, .278 ISO, 5’10”) and José Altuve (24 home runs, .194 ISO, 5’6”) were also frequently cited as proof that we couldn’t truly predict what players would develop power. With this home run, Andrew Benintendi threw us back to twelve months ago, in that he’s 5’10” (and listed at just 170lbs) but can somehow hit a baseball more than 450 feet.

Nor was this a terrible pitch. It certainly didn’t go where Pérez wanted it, but honestly, where he set up (low and over the middle of the plate) is generally a worse place to pitch Benintendi than where it ended up (high and on the outer corner):

Those .111 and .167 figures in the up-and-away portion of the chart are going to go up once last night’s numbers are incorporated, but still, this pitch was not near anything you’d call Benintendi’s sweet spot. Also impressive is that he managed to get around on and pull this pitch about a mile, despite its location. This was just the 12th home run of the season a) by a lefty b) on a pitch in that spot c) that went more than 430 feet. This is not a dinger that any given player could hit. Benintendi has scuffled somewhat, as the league has adjusted to the rookie, but if he can start filling the holes in his zone like this, he’ll have no problem at all.

Now that the serious stuff is out of the way: one of my favorite, favorite things is when a pitcher points up at a batted ball that is very obviously headed out of the ballpark. The point is to remind the fielders to catch the ball, in case they had been struck by a bout of amnesia since the last pitch; the effect is to draw attention to the sign of your failure. But even better than that already funny thing is what Ian Kennedy did here, which is to start the home run point, and transform it midway into an exasperated throwing of the hands. It’s both funnier and more dignified than the point, so it’s a win-win for everyone involved (but mostly people like me who find this stupid thing very funny).

SABRy tidbits

  • Joe Maddon’s job is not being likable (despite how it may seem); his job is getting his team to win games, and that might sometimes mean standing up for them publicly even if he doesn’t actually believe what he’s saying. But whether he means it or he’s just trying to take the heat off Anthony Rizzo, he’s wrong about home plate collisions. Both factually wrong about how the collision ban developed, as Grant Brisbee shows, and wrong about collisions being good or desirable in any way, as Grant (correctly) argues.
  • The NHL is having an expansion draft for their new franchise, and it’s fun to imagine what would happen if MLB did the same. The last one was in 1998, so there’s a lot of imagining to do. Over at Talking Chop, Scott Coleman predicts what 15 players the Braves would protect if an expansion draft was incoming, and it’s a fun exercise in prediction and team-building.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Aaron Nola (3.74 projected ERA) vs. Carlos Martínez (3.39 projected ERA)

We’ve had a lot of unbalanced matchups in this portion of the recap — Kershaw, Sale, or Scherzer vs. Some Random Schlub is the projected best matchup of the night a surprising amount of the time — so it’s nice to get one where both pitchers are very much worth watching. Nola has taken a bit of a step back from his impressive 2016, but his current 4.76 ERA masks a 3.82 FIP and 3.31 DRA that are both excellent and presage better run prevention going forward, and at just 24, he’s got a lot of time to continue to improve.

We once said very similar things about Carlos Martínez, and he has met those expectations and hopes. He acheived consistency in 2015 and 2016, but has taken yet another step forward since last season. Martínez’s 28.5 percent strikeout rate is a career high, and his current 2.86 ERA/3.06 FIP/2.23 DRA are all excellent. The result is a top-five pitcher in MLB, probably, and someone who’s very enjoyable to watch. You could do a lot worse than a matchup between a 24-year-old and a 25-year-old who are both presently excellent and have the potential to do even more.