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Launch angles — June 5, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-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

Ian Happ launches a three-run bomb — +.339 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Judged solely in terms of WPA, this home run isn’t that impressive. It came in the fourth inning, so the Cardinals still had plenty of time to come back — and they did, although the Cubs would end up winning. But that ignores all the context behind this play. For both Happ and his team, this home run was both literally and metaphorically huge.

The Cubbies captured the first two games of this series to claw their way to .500, and with Kyle Hendricks getting the nod on Sunday, they had to like their chances. But last year’s third-place finisher in the Cy Young vote allowed four runs in the fourth inning, saddling his squad with a three-run deficit. It seemed St. Louis would cruise to victory, and Chicago would sink back to a losing record.

That’s when Happ put the team on his back. The owner of a .222/.319/.429 line and 99 wRC+ prior to this game, Happ provided the first run for the Cubs with a solo shot off Michael Wacha in the third. The next inning, a single and an error plated two more runs, and Happ came to the plate again. He fouled off a center-cut fastball, but he caught up with the changeup that came after:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Before this game, Happ was floundering; now, he’s flying high, with a .235/.325/.515 triple-slash and 120 wRC+. Likewise, thanks to Happ’s heroics — and Jon Jay’s pinch-hit single in the seventh to break a 6-6 tie — the Cubs came away with the sweep and improved to 28-27, just a game behind the Brewers in the NL Central. So who cares that this happened in the fourth inning? For the team and the player, this hit couldn’t have been any bigger.

Yesterday’s best game score

Ariel Miranda — 90

GIF via MLB.com

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.

Being an Orioles fan cuts both ways. On the one hand, the team has a habit of outperforming the projections, soaring past everyone’s expectations into the postseason. On the other hand… man, does Dan Duquette make some head-scratching trades. For as well as the Birds have done in recent years, they could’ve done so much better with some of the starting pitching they dealt away.

The most notorious example, of course, is 2013’s Scott Feldman trade, which gave the Cubs a future Cy Young winner (Jake Arrieta) and a lockdown reliever (Pedro Strop). That’s not the only one, though. In 2014, Duquette exchanged breakout starter Eduardo Rodriguez for a few months of Andrew Miller. In 2015, he shipped reliable righty Zach Davies to the Brewers for Gerardo Parra. And last year, in a one-for-one southpaw swap, Wade Miley went to the O’s and Miranda went to the M’s.

Miranda’s full-season debut has been inconsistent. Before taking the hill yesterday, he had a 4.17 ERA and 4.72 FIP through 58 13 innings. He’d appeared on Launch Angles twice before — for giving up monster home runs to George Springer and Jose Abreu. Against the Rays, though, he was spectacular, allowing one run and firing the first complete game of his career. Tampa Bay notched four hits and one walk against the lefty, who fanned nine of the 32 hitters he faced.

While the slider hadn’t been a big part of his repertoire before — he’d thrown it 38 times total in his first 11 starts — Miranda leaned on the breaking ball versus the Rays. Of his 20 sliders, 16 went for strikes and seven netted whiffs. His “effectively wild” approach with the pitch appeared to pay off:

Image via Baseball Savant

At his heart, though, Miranda is a contact pitcher — and a good one, too. His .182 BABIP on Sunday lowered his seasonal mark to .246, one of the lowest in the majors. The four-seam fastball played the biggest role in that: Rays hitters went 4-for-20 when putting the heater in play. As he’s done all year, Miranda pounded them with fastballs high and over the plate:

Image via Baseball Savant

The complete-game effort brought Miranda’s ERA down to 3.74, along with a 4.27 FIP. During his time in Baltimore, Miley has a 4.40 ERA and 4.11 FIP. That winning record is nice, Duquette, but having a guy like Miranda — or, you know, Arrieta or Rodriguez or Davies — would never hurt.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Ian Happ — 443 feet

GIF via MLB.com

More Happ madness! Before he gave the Cubs the lead, Happ put them on the board with this monster shot. Wacha tried to sneak a first-pitch fastball by him — a bizarre idea, as Happ has the highest first-pitch swing rate in the majors. The outfielder swung at the pitch, and he didn’t miss:

Image via Brooks Baseball

The dinger was Happ’s third of the year, and his first since May 16. He showed off some clout in the minors — before the Cubs called him up, he’d walloped nine taters in 116 plate appearances for Triple-A Iowa — but this is a bit of a surprise from the guy whose raw power Eric Longenhagen gave a 55 future grade.

Wacha’s no ace, though; he’s now given up seven home runs in 54 innings, along with a 4.67 ERA. And for the first pitch of the at-bat, in a scoreless ballgame, Happ was looking for something to drive. If all the factors line up, anyone can launch a ball into the stratosphere; Sunday was just Happ’s chance to shine.

SABRy tidbits

  • Who doesn’t love player comparisons? I’ll tell you who — people who don’t read Beyond the Box Score. Over at Pinstripe Alley, we have two great comparisons featuring Yankees starters: Matt Provenzano looks at CC Sabathia and another aging former ace, and Ryan Chichester analyzes how Masahiro Tanaka’s current struggles resemble those of Dallas Keuchel last year.
  • Before the Mariners traded Miley for Miranda, they picked up Miley from the Red Sox. At the time, it looked like Boston got the better end of the deal, snagging a possibly elite reliever in Carson Smith. While Smith underwent Tommy John surgery last year, he’s on the comeback trail, and Over the Monster’s outofleftfield is optimistic about the righty.
  • Amid all the craziness with grand slams on Saturday, the Yankees managed to club four home runs in one inning. The pitcher on the receiving end of those long balls, Jason Grilli, now has a horrendous 8.15 ERA and 8.82 FIP in 17 23 innings. Bluebird Banter’s Matt Gross thinks this could be the end of the line for the 40-year-old.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jeff Samardzija (3.59 projected ERA) vs. Junior Guerra (4.47 projected ERA)

This is about as diametrically opposed a matchup as you’ll ever see (well, aside from when Clayton Kershaw faces some Padres starter.) Samardzija’s a chronically unlucky pitcher; this season, he’s notched a 4.63 ERA despite a 3.14 FIP. Guerra, by contrast, was one of baseball’s biggest overperformers last year, and he sustained that in his first three starts of 2017, tallying a 1.84 ERA and 4.47 FIP.

Steamer and ZiPS, as they so often do, expect these trends to reverse; both Samardzija and Guerra should see their BABIPs and strand rates align with the MLB averages. Should that happen, the game should tilt in the Giants’ favor. If things keep going the way they’ve been going, though, the Brewers could come out on top. Whatever goes down, these 32-year-olds — yeah, they’re both the same age — should make for an entertaining duel.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.