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
Chris Taylor crushes a go-ahead grand slam — +.630 WPA
Man, what a day for baseball. MLB teams hit not one, not two, not three, but seven grand slams. It was a single-day record! Albert Pujols had one for his 600th career homer! Mike Zunino had one for his second round-tripper of the season! Travis Shaw had one for the first time in his career! (Plus some guy threw a no-hitter, but we’ll get to that.)
Of all the salamis, this one happened in the most crucial situation. The Dodgers came into the ninth inning behind 8-5, with
Proven Closer generally mediocre reliever Carlos Torres on to wrap up a Brewers win. For the second straight day, though, L.A. rallied. Chase Utley worked a one-out walk, and Jesus Aguilar made an errant throw on what could have been a double-play ball. Three batters later, the bases were packed for Taylor.
Cutters have accounted for about 70 percent of Torres’s pitches this year. He’s not as pronounced as Kenley Jansen — who would pitch the bottom half of this inning — but Torres has one primary pitch, and hitters know what to expect. Taylor saw five pitches, all cutters, and the last one caught a little too much of the plate:
Taylor’s swing turned an 8-6 deficit to a 10-8 edge, which Jansen would make stand up. While he entered the game with a superb .314/.411/.521 batting line, this was by far the biggest play of the season for him. With the defeat, Torres’s ERA imploded to 4.20, which is still better than Neftali Feliz, the former Brewers closer. Corey Knebel and his 1.33 ERA had pitched the previous day, but if Craig Counsell had used him instead of Torres, perhaps we would have seen only six grand slams.
Yesterday’s best game score
Edinson Volquez — 100
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.
I’m writing this section of the recap at about 7:30 p.m. EST. Several games are still going on, and a few haven’t even started yet, but I’m not worried. I feel confident that no other pitcher will throw a no-hitter tonight — and with fewer than 100 pitches, no less:
Since 2007, there have been 37 no-hitters, and 109 Maddux's. Volquez's is just the third no-hit Maddux in that period. (h/t @baseball_ref)— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) June 3, 2017
Volquez entered last night’s game against the Diamondbacks with a 4.44 ERA and 4.62 FIP; he’d pitched six innings or fewer in all 10 of his starts. Arizona had a high-octane offense — before the contest, it ranked fifth in the majors with a .329 wOBA — so it seemed the Marlins righty had his work cut out for him. But, of course, that’s why you play the game.
The story behind the no-hitter is incredible enough — you should watch Volquez’s postgame interview if you haven’t already. Because this is BtBS, though, we’ll focus on the statistical side of things, which is fascinating all the same. Volquez threw 65 of his 98 pitches for strikes, mixing in 25 called and 14 swinging strikes for good measure. The sinker helped with the former, catching hitters looking 14 times in 41 appearances. Volquez challenged the Diamondbacks in the zone with his two-seamer, and they couldn’t adjust:
Ten of the whiffs, meanwhile, came on his 36 changeups, which he kept down below the zone throughout, and away from the four lefties in the starting lineup:
Thanks to those two offerings — and the occasional knuckle-curve — Volquez allowed just three baserunners in his nine frames while striking out 10. With the first no-hitter of his career, he lowered his 2017 ERA to 3.79; with the 3-0 victory, the Marlins clawed their way to a 23-31 record, one step closer to .500. The team will probably have another fire sale this summer, but for one day at least, things were beautiful in Miami.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Tommy Joseph — 449 feet
Of course, on the day when we see seven grand slams, the longest long ball is a solo shot. With that said, this is far from a surprising candidate. In 525 career MLB plate appearances before this game, Joseph had 29 home runs and a .231 ISO. He doesn’t hit for average, or take walks, or run the bases well, or field his position; all Joseph does is hit dingers, and there aren’t many better in that department.
Johnny Cueto had been cruising before this, striking out six of the previous nine hitters he’d faced. Joseph refused to give in, though; he looked over some pitches outside the zone, fouled off a nasty slider, then pounced when the count hit 3-2:
I’ve always wondered about the efficacy of Cueto’s little delivery quirks. He’s done this “stop, whoa, wiggle with it” routine for at least a couple of years now, and while it obviously throws hitters a curveball, it can’t make up for when he hangs a full-count changeup. Although Joseph’s teammates couldn’t get on base in front of him, that didn’t prevent him from mashing this tater. Who needs a grand salami when you can do all the heavy lifting yourself?
- The Red Sox offense, so commanding last year, has fallen off a bit this season; Boston ranks 12th in the majors with a 98 wRC+. Jackie Bradley Jr. had a hand in that change — he’s dropped from 118 in 2016 to 99 this year — and the club’s put him further down in the order as the result. But Over the Monster’s Matt Collins thinks it’s time for that to change.
- One of the pitchers who gave up a grand slam yesterday: Ervin Santana, whose ERA ballooned from 1.75 to 2.44. He’s been something of a strange case this year, running a minuscule ERA despite mediocre peripherals. Twinkie Town’s badcoffee tries to sort through the numbers and find the real Ervin Santana.
- While he had a historically awful TOOTBLAN yesterday, Tommy Pham has excelled for the Cardinals this year, hitting .305/.392/.537 with a 146 wRC+. He’s done that with improved plate discipline, which comes despite a degenerative eye condition that impacts his vision. Viva El Birdos’s Ben Markham is impressed with how far Pham has come.
Today’s best pitching matchup
Chris Tillman (4.78 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.91 projected ERA)
We usually see two kinds of matchups in this slot. Either it’s two respectable pitchers going head-to-head, or an ace facing a, uh, non-ace. Michael Wacha and Kyle Hendricks, who will take the hill today, have respective projected ERAs of 3.66 and 4.04; that averages out to a 3.85. The Chrises are not nearly as close to each other, but their mean ERA is 3.845, just a hair beneath Wacha and Hendricks. For today’s best pitching, look to the AL East, not the NL Central.
Or, rather, look to one of the teams in the AL East. Sale has done nothing but dominate since coming to Boston; he’s struck out nearly seven hitters for each one he walks, helping him post the lowest FIP (1.92) of his career by a ton. Tillman, on the other hand, has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this year — his velocity is down, and he’s not throwing strikes or suppressing hits like he used to. While the combined runs scored in this game may be low, it most likely won’t be spread evenly. Expect the Red Sox to hang a crooked number, and the Orioles to whiff like crazy.