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Launch angles — June 29, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels Robert Hanashiro-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

Yasmani Grandal does his best — +.369 WPA

If that headline sounds unenthused, it’s not any fault of Grandal’s. Or at least, not Grandal the offensive player. The Dodgers had stayed in this game thanks to a great night from Hyun-Jin Ryu — 5 23 IP, 2 R, 8 K, 1 BB — but Alex Meyer, of all people, had managed to prevent them from taking full advantage of that performance. In the top of the 9th, Los Angeles was down to their last out, and Grandal to his last strike. But he stayed back on a 85mph slider from Cam Bedrosian that stayed squarely in the zone, and powered it through the rain and mist to send them to the bottom of the 9th.

Alas, the unenthused nature of the headline comes in here, when Pedro Báez came on in an attempt to give the Dodgers bats another chance at taking the lead. Báez bears approximately none of the blame, though; two groundouts should’ve yielded two outs and no baserunners, but a fielding error by Chris Taylor put Ben Revere on second with one out. Báez then got the next batter (Cameron Maybin) to chase a ball in the dirt with two strikes, but it slipped under Grandal and to the backstop. Maybin seemed to think he had fouled it, perhaps, and so didn’t start running until Grandal had retrieved the ball. Maybe it was the wet grass, or maybe it was just tiredness and the way these things happen sometimes, but Grandal couldn’t make the throw to first, and Ben Revere hustled home from second. Ouch.

Painful fielding blunders aside, Grandal is having himself a very nice year. He hasn’t quite sustained his offensive performance from last season, the best of his career to date, but he’s taken only a moderate step back. He continues to be an outstanding receiver and a very good blocker and thrower (usually), and a core part of the Dodgers’ success. He may have been responsible for last night’s loss in some way, but he was also responsible for the Dodgers getting to play that inning at all, so it washes out.

Yesterday’s best game score

Marcus Stroman — 82

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.

Marcus Stroman is so great. Both in the normal baseball sense — he went 7 23 innings last night, shutting out the Orioles with eight strikeouts, five hits, and just one walk — and in the fun, “baseball is a silly game and it should be enjoyable” sense. He seems to genuinely like the city of Toronto, and is a lot of fun to watch on and off the field. It’s great when the talented players are the likable players, and that’s the case at least for Stroman. The above pitch to Jonathan Schoop is pretty gross; the Orioles shortstop has a point, in that the pitch was apparently somewhat off the plate, but it’s nearly a perfect pitch for a 2-2 count, and not the kind of offering you can take with two strikes. (Note also how little Russell Martin’s glove moves. This was a great pitch in both strategy and execution.)

The Jays righty relied mostly on his twoseamer and slider last night, to great effect. His control of both pitches was outstanding, and he kept almost all of his pitches confined to a relatively small area of the zone:

Baseball Savant

There are very few balls in the center of the zone, and for an opposing batter, distinguishing between a fastball that was going to stay in the low-outside corner of the zone and a slider that was going to dive down out of it can’t have been easy.

Would you believe that the Blue Jays are just a game behind the Orioles? That’s more bad news for Baltimore than it is good news for the Blue Jays — both teams are under .500, and if either is going to make the playoffs it’ll take a serious surge, and soon — but about six weeks ago, on May 9, the Orioles were a whopping 10.5 games up on the Jays. It’s hard not to hope the Jays make the playoffs, or at least come close, given their incredibly slow start and how improbable a comeback would be. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve got players like Stroman, who are a blast to watch and are deserving of a few extra chances to pitch on national TV.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Salvador Pérez — 451 feet

This was a very aesthetically pleasing dinger. Daniel Norris’s fastball was supposed to be down and away, and it leaked both upward and inside, ending up in a very hittable spot. Pérez doesn’t seem to exert any effort in sending this pitch 450 feet, either physical or mental; he doesn’t have to strain to hold up, or reach for it, or corkscrew himself into the ground to power it out. Instead, he just makes his swing, makes square contact, and sends the ball to the moon.

I seem to recall, when the Royals were well below .500 and down by a sizable margin in the AL Central earlier this year, some modest gloating on the part of sabermetric types. Kansas City’s roster has stayed fairly stable since their World Series victory, and much was made that season of the gap between their projected lack of success and their actual enormous success. After that, it was hard not to take some pride in the apparent success of this season’s projections in correctly identifying the Royals as medicore at best.

Now it’s just about a month until the trade deadline, and the Royals are .500 exactly, just 2.5 games out of first in the AL Central and 2.0 games out of a Wild Card slot, thanks in part to the best offensive season of Salvador Pérez’s career. Are they likely to make the playoffs? Seemingly not; FanGraphs pegs them at less than 3% to win the division, and less than 10% to take a Wild Card spot. But can you imagine the well-earned counter-counter-gloating if they did? Some folks have called the Royals recent success a bad thing, since it could keep them from selling off assets at the trade deadline. That is the kind of take that could come back to haunt someone after an improbable run to the playoffs, should one occur. Just because of the massive amounts of crow we’d have to collectively eat if it should happen, I think we all should be pulling for Kansas City. More giant dingers, please, Mr. Pérez!

SABRy tidbits

  • Shout out Carl Edwards Jr., Cubs reliever, who chose not to visit the White House and the Young Republicans club with Joe Maddon, and instead spent the day at the various Smithsonians and such that Washington D.C. has to offer. Carl, let’s hang out. I still haven’t been to the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture, but I know someone who can get us tickets on short notice. I’d also go to the National Zoo in a heartbeat, if you’re more of an animal guy. Let me know.
  • Last night, I was at the Bowie Baysox game, the Orioles’ AA affiliate, and I made fun of the cover of their program:

Turns out, I was onto something, as Alex Conway breaks down at Camden Chat: per an analysis done by Ryan Nelson, the Orioles rank as the worst or among the worst teams at drafting talent, depending on what measure you use. That’s how you end up with a program as big of a bummer as the one above.

  • Bartolo Colón might be done with the Braves after another rocky start, and maybe done with any MLB team. Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jameson Taillon (3.65 projected ERA) vs. Chris Archer (3.33 projected ERA)

This is one of my favorite “best pitching matchups” in a while. There is a plethora of reasons to root for Taillon, not least of which his recent trip to the DL while he underwent a procedure for testicular cancer. He’s also a joy to watch, and after undergoing Tommy John surgery en route to the majors, we’ve had to wait a bit before getting to enjoy him fully. His professional career is off to a good start, with a 3.36 ERA/3.74 FIP in 155 innings between last season and this one, and the projections clearly think those figures aren’t illusory. Getting to know Taillon now is not a bad idea; he’s probably going to be around for a while.

On the other side is a player who once occupied a similar spot in our collective consciousness, but has since graduated to something pretty close to veteran status. Somehow, Archer is in his fifth full season in the majors, and has fully rebounded from a funky year last year to dominate in 2017 and form a key part of the Rays’ surprising success. He’s currently running a 29.2 percent strikeout rate, a 7.6 percent walk rate, and a 2.88 FIP/3.88 ERA. This is a legit pitchers’ duel, between two young and up-and-coming players who are both very easy to root for, albeit for different reasons. Watch this game.