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Launch angles — June 25, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-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

Héctor Sánchez smacks a go-ahead dinger — +.488 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

The “unlikely hero” is a classic trope of storytelling. In Back To The Future, George McFly was a science-fiction loving nerd with a penchant for tree-climbing and zero confidence. His capacity for greatness was dismissed easily and — to be honest — with good reason, but that’s the recipe in which this trope succeeds. At the moment he was counted out the most, when push came to shove, George McFly stood up to Hill Valley High School’s most intimidating bully and saved the day.

On Saturday night we got a real-life unlikely baseball hero in the form of career backup catcher Héctor Sánchez. With the Padres trailing by one run in the bottom of the eighth with a runner on first, Sánchez smashed the second pitch he saw from Tigers reliever Shane Greene into the right-center field bleachers. Perhaps Greene felt Sánchez was an easy out, because he threw two consecutive two-seam fastballs over the heart of the plate in nearly identical locations. Our hero was underestimated.

Sánchez owns a career 74 wRC+, 0.3 bWar/0.0 fWAR, and just 14 home runs in his seven major league seasons; so in fairness to Greene, this is the last person you’d expect to beat you. But that’s what makes an underdog story so satisfying, the thought that anyone, at anytime, is capable of greatness.

After Sánchez’s heroics, the Padres would go on to score three more runs in the eighth and win by a final score of 7-3. Well done, Héctor Sánchez. You’ve more than earned this Powerade bath.

Gif via MLB.com

Yesterday’s best game score

Corey Kluber — 79

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.

Since returning from his nearly month long stint on the disabled list with a back injury, Corey Kluber has been incredible. In that time he has made five starts and only allowed a total of five earned runs. This is Kluber’s third straight start to be featured as the best pitching performance of the day in Launch Angles. The Klu-bot is locked in.

On Saturday, Kluber went seven innings, allowing just three hits, two walks, and two unearned runs. He struck out 13 Twins, eight times swinging and five times looking. Kluber recorded 14 swinging strikes on the day — 10 of which came on his curveball — but it was his ability to paint the outside corners that made him so dominant on Saturday; a fact not lost on the opposing manager.

While his statement is a little hyperbolic, looking closely it appears that Molitor does have a somewhat legitimate gripe. The below chart is every strikeout Kluber collected against the Twins on Saturday. I put a blue dot on the eight called strikes to help differentiate them.

Chart via Baseball Savant

As you can see, there are two called strike threes that should’ve been balls and two that were borderline. If we’re being totally honest, there’s nothing overwhelmingly egregious about those calls, we see worse almost every day. With an ace on the mound who is effectively throwing strikes on the corners, it stands to reason that an umpire might give a couple of extra inches here and there. Is it ideal? Of course not. But this isn’t the place where we debate the merits of robot umpires.

Instead we tip our caps to Corey Kluber, who is mowing through the league with ease right now. In five days he’ll go for his fourth straight appearance in this space. Get excited, people. We have a streak on our hands.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge/Michael Taylor — 439 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Aaron Judge is a force of nature, you know this by now. He crushed another monster home run — his 26th — against Rangers starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx on Saturday. This is fifth time he’s been featured as the owner of the longest home run of the day, which leads the league and is why I’m going to focus on Michael Taylor’s dinger. Plenty of words will be devoted to Judge in these recaps, let’s spread the wealth.

Gif via MLB.com

Michael Taylor hit two home runs in the Nationals 18-3 route of the Reds on Saturday, but his first one was the longest. With Matt Wieters on first base, Taylor reached out a drove a 93 mile per hour, first pitch, belt high, outer-half four-seam fastball from Lisalverto Bonilla to the unoccupied grass in center field.

In his time as Adam Eaton’s replacement, Taylor is showing his normal penchant for strikeouts with low walk and contact rates. But unlike past iterations, this version of Michael Taylor is crushing dingers. The two on Saturday marked his ninth and tenth on the season in just 216 plate appearances. Taylor’s flyball rate is up nearly seven percentage points and his hard hit rate is up almost five percentage points.

We gotta do it. Let’s check that average launch angle. In 2016 it was 7.8 degrees and in 2017 it is — wait for it — 11.3 degrees! We can’t proclaim Taylor another member of the fly-ball revolution without confirmation from the man himself that his approach has changed, but go ahead and get his membership papers started, just in case. He shares a locker room with Daniel Murphy after all.

The Eaton injury was a huge loss for Washington, but if Taylor can keep this power production going it makes his other shortfalls much more palatable for the Nationals. Like they needed any more potent offensive threats.

SABRy tidbits

  • A’s middle-infielder Franklin Barreto got the call on Saturday and promptly smashed his first career home run against 2016’s worst qualified MLB starter by fWAR, James Shields. Barreto was the headline acquisition for the A’s in the infamous Josh Donaldson trade. It will be almost impossible for Barreto to be good enough to change the perception of that swap, but he’s still one of the game’s top prospects. Over at Minor League Ball, John Sickels put together a profile on Barreto to help us all familiarize ourselves with his game.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Tyler Anderson (4.18 projected ERA) vs. Brandon McCarthy (3.82 projected ERA)

As my colleague Joe Clarkin detailed at the end of May, Tyler Anderson has developed a home run problem this year despite not allowing much hard contact. He has only started one game this season without giving up a dinger and the issue appears to be the driving force behind his robust 5.75 ERA and 5.01 FIP. After coming out of the bullpen for his last appearance, Anderson gets the start on Sunday against a Dodgers team that has been mashing taters with impunity.

The boys in blue also appear to have killed the narrative that they can’t hit left handers as they own a 107 wRC+ against southpaws this season. Anderson’s home run issues will be put to the test on Sunday.

Brandon McCarthy enters the matchup with a 2.87 ERA and 3.17 FIP and has only allowed more than two earned runs in two of his 12 starts this year. McCarthy’s strikeouts are down compared to his last couple of injury-plagued seasons, but he’s still finding success by allowing very little hard contact. Among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 60 innings, only Dallas Keuchel and Alex Wood have a lower hard hit rate.

After winning the first two games of the series, the Dodgers now lead Arizona in the tight NL West by 2.5 games and are trying for their tenth straight win and third consecutive series sweep. The Rockies have lost four in a row and sit in third place, a win on Sunday would go a long way towards righting the ship.


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