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Launch angles — June 24, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
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Denny Medley-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

#RoyalsDevilMagic — +.794 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

2015 seems like forever ago. The Royals ended their 30-year title drought by stomping over the rest of the major leagues, but since then they’ve fallen off dramatically. After a .500 finish last year, the club stumbled out of the gate with an 22-30 record in April and May. Several key players are set to hit free agency after the 2017 season; it looked like this might be the end for K.C.

But the team’s fate might be changing. The Royals have gone 14-6 in June — the best record in the American League — despite a Pythagorean record of 12-8 in that span. How have they pulled that off? Well, on Wednesday, Kansas City nabbed the Launch Angles top spot for the first time in 2017, with an eighth-inning grand slam from Salvador Perez giving the squad an edge over the Red Sox. And last night against the Blue Jays, the Royals again saved the best for last.

*109 runs scored, 89 runs allowed

The Royals had two men out, a runner on, and a three-run deficit. That’s when the craziness started. Brandon Moss worked a nine-pitch walk off Ryan Tepera; ball four got away from Russell Martin, allowing Perez to advance an extra base. The historically awful Alcides Escobar hit an RBI single to trim the lead to 4-2. John Gibbons put in Aaron Loup to face Alex Gordon, who greeted the LOOGY with another single that brought another run across.

That set the stage for Merrifield. The fourth straight Kansas City hitter to step in with two outs, Merrifield worked Jason Grilli to a 3-1 count. Looking to make a comeback from that much-discussed margin, Grilli tried to sneak a fastball past Merrifield for strike two, but he wasn’t having it.

GIF via MLB.com

Roberto Osuna could only watch, sickened, as the bullpen imploded and the Royals surged to victory.

A phenomenal two-out hit from a vastly underrated player? Satanic trickery? Or just random variation? Whatever it was, the masses don’t care. While a GIF obviously can’t convey it, you can get some idea from the shakiness of the home plate camera — Kauffman Stadium was rocking when Merrifield hit that ball. Even if the 36-36 Royals can’t make another run for October, moments like these will remind the fans of championship chases past.

Yesterday’s best game score

Yu Darvish — 88

GIF via MLB.com

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.

There’s really not much I can say about the matchup itself, so I’ll just throw these tweets out there:

Masahiro Tanaka has had a bumpy season, but he showed no signs of it last night, blanking the Rangers over eight innings and shaving 60 points off his ERA in the process. Yet it was Darvish who took home the Game Score crown. While Yu pitched just seven frames, leaving early with tricep tightness, he was dominant during that span. The Yankees tallied just two hits and no runs off him, and he picked up 10 strikeouts for good measure.

When Darvish is feeling good, his breaking ball mix is borderline unhittable. On Friday night in the Bronx, he hit the Bombers with a combined 38 sliders and curveballs. 30 went for strikes, and 13 went for swings-and-misses. He wasn’t shy with those offerings, either — he was aggressive in the strike zone throughout the game:

Image via Baseball Savant

And why not challenge them? Just look at those swings — you really think Chris Carter and his Mendoza-line-hugging batting average can catch up with a lollipop curve? When you get insane movement on your breaking pitches, and you can contrast them with your mid-90s fastball, you can thrown them anywhere.

This dominant start — which didn’t result in a win thanks to a Matt Bush meltdown, but I digress — improved Darvish’s season ERA to 3.12 and FIP to 3.87. Each of those is rather impressive (the former comes out to a 69 ERA-, I must mention), and with the Rangers 13 games back in the AL West, they might shop their ace before he hits the market. How much do you think the Cubs or Dodgers would pay for that kind of production?

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Giancarlo Stanton — 458 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Stanton has now had the longest home run of the day three times this season. That ties him for second in the majors with Mark Reynolds, Kyle Schwarber, Joey Gallo, and teammate Marcell Ozuna, who appeared here yesterday. (I don’t think I need to tell you who’s in first. Hint: His name is extremely wordplay-friendly.) But this dong was a little different. I’ll let these graphics speak their thousand words:

Image via Baseball Savant
Image via Brooks Baseball

The first image shows the 18 home runs Stanton had in 2017 prior to this game. The second image shows the approach John Lackey took to him — nothing over the middle of the plate (and a few pitches not even close to it). But on a 2-1 count, Stanton went full extension and managed to make contact, poking this ball several dozen feet beyond the wall in center.

Judge might reign supreme this year, but Stanton still has the all-time edge. By Statcast’s eye, Stanton had 14 home runs of at least 450 feet before this one. No other player has more since 2015, and Carlos Gonzalez, who’s in second, hasn’t looked like a big-leaguer this year. If this blast is any indication, Mike’s throne isn’t something that Judge can litigate away.

SABRy tidbits

  • As pretty much the only player the Braves received in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Sean Newcomb has a lot riding on his shoulders. He’s looked like an ace through his first three MLB starts, but is he for real? Talking Chop’s Mason Wittner breaks down each outing in detail to find out the answer.
  • We — meaning statistics folks, and not catchers/teams themselves — have known about pitch framing for several years now. What’s the state of framing now that it’s mainstream. Ryan Hanigan, a talented receiver past and present, talked that over with BtBS’s Richard Bergstrom over at Purple Row, and it’s well worth your time.
  • What does Matt Davidson have in common with Odell Beckham Jr.? They’re both aware of their physical attributes, and the appeal thereof. If that answer is too vague for you, check out Jim Margalus’s analysis of the White Sox home run habits over at South Side Sox.
  • Aaron Hicks’s breakout year has given the Yankees a bit of a dilemma, as Jacoby Ellsbury — their $153 million man — is set to return soon from his concussion. Is there a spot for Ellsbury in the outfield? Pinstripe Alley’s Jason Cohen does his best to resolve the logjam.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Tyler Chatwood (4.47 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.66 projected ERA)

While he’s still the best pitcher on the planet — sorry, Shohei — Kershaw hasn’t looked like himself this year. We’re not even halfway through the season, and he’s already given up a career-high 17 home runs. My colleague Ron Wolschleger took a look at this strange spike on Thursday, tracing it to his four-seam fastball location. Even in Chavez Ravine, a center-cut heater against the Rockies is just asking for trouble.

On the other side, Chatwood is very much not the best pitcher on the planet. He’s managed to post a low BABIP — and thus outperform his FIP — for the second straight year, which his projections don’t account for. Plus, his home run-fly ball rate has spiked this year, to a level that’s high even for a Rockies pitcher. If he can keep the ball in the yard (and Kershaw can’t), the Dodgers might be in trouble.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.