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Launch angles — June 27, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-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

Wade Davis staves off the comeback — -.244 WPA

When the bottom of the 9th started, the relevant question seemed to be whether the Nationals would be shut out, and their streak of scoring at least one run per game broken. So when the inning began with a Daniel Murphy double and a Matt Wieters single, making the score 5–1 in favor of the Cubs, it seemed like most people thought the drama of this game had mostly dried up. Wade Davis came on to shut the door, but instead gave up a pair of doubles, a walk, and a single, bringing Ryan Zimmerman to the plate with two outs, runners on second and third, and the Nats’ deficit cut to just one.

At this point, pretty much no matter what Ryan Zimmerman and Davis do, they’re getting featured in this part of the recap today. Either a) Zimmerman drives in a run, tying the game or winning it for the Nationals on the spot, adding at least .250 or .300 points of WPA and as much as .750, or b) Davis gets the out, and the Cubs win on the spot. A cluster of high fastballs, followed by a curveball spiked in the dirt that Zimmerman couldn’t let go by, and Davis and the Cubs had emerged from the nail-biter as victors.

Can you imagine if the Cubs had lost this game on a dropped third strike/wild relay to first? That’s the only good thing about the dropped third strike rule, I think. I’m sure people will bring up other benefits it has, but in my opinion, its entire reason for existence is to someday take a victory from a team in the most heartbreakingly stupid way possible. It’ll be great when it happens, but alas, it was not to be last night.

Yesterday’s best game score

Jordan Montgomery/Ricky Nolasco — 69

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.

Ties are a drag, so as has become my habit when there’s a tie for one of these honors, it’s time to subjectively decide which of Nolasco/Montgomery had the more deserving night.

Both had similar lines — good, if flawed, though flawed in different ways. Nolasco shut out the Dodgers over 6 13, striking out five, walking two, and allowing five hits en route to the victory. (The lack of durability is perhaps not entirely his fault; with one out in the 7th, he took a line drive off the foot and departed after just 84 pitches as a result.) Montgomery finished 7 innings for the Yankees, striking out eight, walking one, and also allowing five hits (though one was a home run, driving in the one ER he allowed on the night). So the question is mainly: did the dinger allowed by Montgomery overcome his extra strikeouts and Nolasco’s extra walks?

I think it doesn’t. It wasn’t a cheap shot or anything, a Todd Frazier drive that ended up several rows back in LF, and it came on a pretty bad pitch, a very vulnerable fastball in the lower-middle of the zone. But the rest of Montgomery’s night was very impressive outside of that mistake pitch. His fastball was not great, and I wonder if it’s a pitch he’ll begin to move away from; he threw it 30 times, and got only 19 strikes out of the bargain, not a great rate for a fourseamer. On the other hand, Montgomery is evidently very comfortable with his curveball, throwing it 32 times, and it was very good, garnering eight whiffs and a strike rate nearly identical to that of his fastball. And as shown above in his strikeout of Yolmer Sánchez, who was tied neatly into a bow and returned to the Chicago dugout, Montgomery can do nasty things with this slider as well. It was a nice night for him, marred by a single bad pitch that got taken advantage of.

Nolasco also had the kind of night he should be very proud of, but I think he needed to get lucky to a somewhat higher degree than Montgomery did to make this slot. In the gif shown, for example, he gets Joc Pederson to strike out with the bases loaded on a nice slider, but after loading the bases, he had no margin for error, and if his hits and walks allowed had come in a slightly different order, there wouldn’t have been a tie for me to break. I’m comfortable saying that Montgomery was the better pitcher last night, if not by a large margin.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Todd Frazier — 422 feet

Hey, remember that home run off Montgomery that I said wasn’t a cheap shot of any sort? I wasn’t lying! This pitch isn’t grooved, exactly, but it is very hittable, and Frazier times it and extends his arms enough to pull it deep.

The White Sox 3B is in the midst of a very strange stretch, covering the last season and a half. By lots of figures, Frazier looks like he’s improved his hitting over last season: he’s lost only a bit of power (.216 ISO in 2017, compared to .239 in 2016), he’s walking more (13.9 percent/9.6 percent), and he’s striking out less (20.9 percent/24.5 percent). So how does he have a 98 wRC+ this year, almost identical to his 102 wRC+ in 2016, and far below the 118 wRC+ he had from 2014–15?

The answer might be as simple as bad luck on batted balls. Frazier’s BABIP this year is a paltry .220, third-lowest in the league among qualified hitters. He’s not the kind of speedster who should be expected to run high BABIPs, but his career figure is .274, and even just a bump back to that figure would probably make his season line look a lot more reasonable.

He’s still a talented defender, and a third baseman who hits for league-average offense and defends well is a valuable player. As he’s hitting free agency this fall, Frazier will almost certainly be departing the White Sox in the next month, and when a trade does happen, Chicago should get a decent return no matter how Frazier hits in the meantime. But based on just how good that return is, we should be able to guess whether the competitive teams of 2017 see Frazier as a fundamentally different hitter than he was in 2014–15, or as basically the same person. If he keeps hitting home runs like the one above, that answer might get a lot more obvious.

SABRy tidbits

  • The Twins are burning through pitchers like wild, using their 26th just 71 games into the season and potentially on pace to break the single-season record. As Louie Opatz of Twinkie Town describes, that’s a product of both the Twins themselves and of modern baseball, for better or for worse.
  • The Rays have an MO: planning for the future, even when the present is promising. the classic move in that vein has been to trade away young, talented players with a year of team control left, even when Tampa Bay projects as a possible playoff team, rather than letting them walk in free agency. I’ve made my displeasure with that approach clear in the past, so I was excited to read Danny Russell’s write-up of the Adeiny Hechavarria trade over at DRays Bay. As he points out, the Rays are usually on the other end of a prospect-major leaguer swap, and this trade seems to reflect a real desire to make waves in the present.
  • The book on Jonathan Schoop has remained fairly constant since he debuted: decent power for a middle infielder, but lots of whiffs and strikeouts with very few walks. But as BtBS alum Nick Cicere points out at Viva El Birdos, Schoop has taken a step forward in 2017. Better pitch recognition has led to a 5.7 percent walk rate, which sounds paltry until you compare it to Schoop’s 3.5 percent career walk rate.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Max Scherzer (3.03 projected ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (3.48 projected ERA)

This stands a decent chance of being a preview of an upcoming playoff series this fall, and perhaps even the marquis matchup of that still-hypothetical series. Scherzer is outstanding, one of the best and most consistent performers in all of baseball, and if not the frontrunner for the NL Cy Young at least very close, given Clayton Kershaw’s recent struggles. There is roughly a 15 percent chance that any given start of his will turn into a legitimate no-hit bid. Alone, he’s shouldn’t-miss; paired against the Cubs, and Jake Arrieta specifically, he’s can’t-miss. Arrieta is seemingly not the pitcher he once was, but there are some hints that he could be turning it around:

and even if he’s not a Cy Young-winner anymore, he’s quite good. This matchup has lots going for it; think of the potential for a return to classic Arrieta form as pure bonus.