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Launch angles — June 30, 2017

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All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-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

Jon Jay capped off a late rally— +.666 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

The Cubs’ general discord against the Nationals’ terrible bullpen; immovable object, meet unstoppable force. Something had to give. Turns out that something was Nationals reliever Blake Treinen and what he gave up was a two-out, three-run Cubs’ rally in the ninth inning.

With two runners on and two out in the aforementioned ninth, Tommy La Stella singled home a run to cut the Nationals lead to 4-3. Jon Jay then stepped to the plate and took a 99 mile per hour four-seam fastball inside. Treinen stayed with the four-seamer for his second pitch, but it was two miles per hour slower and right smack in the middle of the zone. Jay crushed it — 102 mile per hours off the bat — and split the gap in right-center field, driving home Javier Baez and La Stella to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead.

Play diagram via MLB Gameday

The Nationals bullpen is a disaster. The good news is that they have plenty of time before the playoffs begin and plenty of cushion in the NL East to try and get it all sorted out. As for the Cubs, things have been rocky for them too, but they are so talented that a turnaround seems inevitable. The seasonal narrative will always look for singular turning point — maybe it will be Miguel Montero’s DFA, maybe it will be this one game — but the reality is that talent usually carries the day over the course of a long season. Seeing as Jay’s go-ahead double earned a win probability added of .666, maybe the Cubs have stolen some of that Cardinals Devil Magic™ for their own journey out of mediocrity.

Yesterday’s best game score

Ubaldo Jiménez — 90

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.

If it weren’t for a first inning solo home run allowed to Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara, Corey Kluber would have appeared in this space for his fourth consecutive start. Yet on a night that also saw starts from Clayton Kershaw, Chris Archer, David Price, and Jon Lester, it was Ubaldo Jiménez who pitched the best game of the day according to Game Score. Let’s all take a minute to let that sink in.

*Stands up, walks outside — looks up at the sky in wonder, pondering the relative insignificance of humankind and what it all means. Is there something more?*

*Deep breath*

In 65 13 innings this season Ubaldo Jiménez has a 7.26 ERA, a 6.26 FIP, and -0.5 fWAR. Among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched, he ranks second to last in all three categories thanks to how awful fellow veteran Bronson Arroyo has also been. Along with those numbers, Jiménez is sporting an 11.8 percent walk rate; he is not a good major league pitcher.

You’ve surely heard it before after an unexpected performance, but it’s important to remember that even the worst big league pitcher is still one of the best on the planet (our small, insignificant planet). So it stands to reason that on any given day, however unlikely it may be, that elite athlete has the capacity to dominate his peers. Such was the case for Jiménez on Thursday night, as he delivered eight innings of shutout ball against the Blue Jays. He allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out eight.

In this portion of these daily recaps I always like to look at swinging strike numbers as an indication of what was really fooling hitters in any given start. Jiménez had 10 total whiffs with five coming on his splitter; pretty good, but by no means overwhelming. After that I’ll take a look at a zone chart to see how the starter was locating. Since we obviously can’t watch every game, it’s a good way to get the gist of what was working well for a particular pitcher. Here’s his pitch type zone chart on the night.

Zone Chart via Baseball Savant

I’m really at a loss. Look at how many pitches are right over the heart of the plate! Every pitch type is everywhere. His movement numbers indicated that his splitter, slider, and curveball all had less vertical drop than normal, which is not what you want and corroborates the feeling that a lot of pitches seem to have been left up. Maybe the Blue Jays just had a bad night, I don’t know. It’s really true, you can’t predict baseball.

Congratulations to Ubaldo Jiménez on a tremendous performance. A tremendous, unexplainable, logic-defying performance.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Jake Lamb/Hunter Renfroe — 444 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Jake Lamb is having an excellent season for the Diamondbacks. He’s hitting .286/.382/.544 with 17 home runs and a 131 wRC+. He’s been worth 2.2 fWAR and 2.1 bWAR respectively and if he didn’t play third base in the National League would be a lock for the All-Star Game.

It was a garbage time home run that Lamb crushed on the first pitch he saw from Cardinals reliever Mike Mayers, but leverage doesn’t matter in this section of “Launch Angles.” The elevated, four-seam fastball left Lamb’s bat at 106 miles per hour and cleared the outfield swimming pool.

The broadcast cut away too quickly, but it looked as if a scuffle for the baseball was about to break out between two grown men. Normally this wouldn’t require further investigation, but the man who first possessed Lamb’s dinger was wearing an unidentifiable Braves shirsey and his foil was in a Francisco Lindor jersey. Neither team was playing on this day in Arizona, so I’m going to assume the man in the Braves shirsey is a troll and that the name on the back reads either Swanson or Inciarte. Assuming I’m right (just play along, ok?), I just want to acknowledge the cold-blooded, top-shelf trolling. Well played, sir. And well hit, Jake Lamb.

Gif via MLB.com

Lamb wasn’t the only NL West slugger to mash a 444 foot tater on Thursday night, he was joined by Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe. Unlike Lamb, Renfroe’s massive home run in San Diego wasn’t caught by a trolling fan, in fact it wasn’t caught by anybody. This moonshot landed past the shrubbery that underlines the Petco Park batter’s eye. It also wasn’t meaningless, as the two-run blast against Braves starter Jaime García extended the Padres’ lead to 5-0.

This particular dinger left the bat at 107 miles per hour and was deserving of every bit of the accompanying batflip. Watch that gif a few times. This was a batter who hit a baseball very hard, and even in the most pitcher friendly park in baseball, knew it was would end up well beyond the fence. Way to flip your bat young man, anything less on this home run would’ve been a disservice to memory of that baseball.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Michael Pineda (4.00 projected ERA) vs. Lance McCullers (3.28 projected ERA)

For the past two seasons, Michael Pineda’s ERA has been almost exactly one run higher than his FIP. Naturally, this lead many people to believe — with totally sound arguments — that he was a better pitcher than his basic numbers advertised. Trying to determine who the real Pineda is has been a hotly contested debate.

Everything has turned on it’s head this year. Black is white, up is down, and Pineda’s FIP (4.41) is now higher than his ERA (4.12). It’s easy to see why Pineda’s FIP has ballooned. While his walk rate is down, so is his strikeout rate. Add to that a 5.4 percentage point rise in home-run-to-fly-ball rate, and that’s a recipe for an increased FIP.

via FanGraphs

Unlike his Friday counterpart, Lance McCullers is in the midst of a breakout season. He owns a 2.53 ERA/2.75 FIP, a 29.4 percent strikeout rate, and a 63 percent ground ball rate. Those are all fantastic numbers, but the key to McCullers’ success has been a drastic reduction in walk rate — down from 12.8 percent in 2016 to 7 percent in 2017 — and a 102 percentage point decrease in BABIP. Even with a stint on the disabled list under his belt, McCullers has already been worth 2.4 fWAR.

We may not know which Michael Pineda we get from night to night or season to season, but it appears Lance McCullers the ace has arrived.


Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score who still can’t believe Ubaldo Jiménez made it into today’s recap. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.