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Launch angles — June 6, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

St Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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

Eugenio Suarez pulls the Reds even — +.329 WPA

It is wild how close Dexter Fowler was to turning this into an out. Carlos Martinez had cruised through the Reds order for the first six innings, striking out seven while giving up just two hits and one walk. Despite that efficiency, and his low pitch count entering the seventh (76), Martinez was facing the Reds batters for the third time that game, a circumstance that is often more important that pitch count. Billy Hamilton bunted his way on, Zack Cozart singled, and Joey Votto walked. An Adam Duvall strikeout made this inning look salvageable, and if Fowler was literally a centimeter taller*, it would’ve been. Instead, Suarez’s line drive tied the game, and Scooter Gennett’s double in the next PA (against Kevin Siegrist) gave the Reds a 4–2 lead they wouldn’t give up.

*Just to be clear: this would’ve been a fantastic catch by Fowler if he had been able to hold on. You can tell he’s kicking himself after the play, and it’s easy to imagine what could’ve happened if he had been a little further back. But the only reason a fly out seems even plausible is because he covered so much ground at such a tough angle and came as close as he did. Even without catching it, he probably turned this hit from a bases-clearing triple into a two-run double.

The Reds offense was not expected to be as good as it has been. Joey Votto is great, of course, but he’s been even better than expected, and is making his mammoth contract look reasonable for as long as possible. But Cincinnati’s role players have been the bigger surprises. Scott Schebler (.319 preseason Steamer wOBA projection/.354 actual), Duvall (.313/.357), Gennett (.296/.323), Cozart (.296/.439 (!)) and today’s hero, Suarez (.314/.372) have all substantially outperformed expectations. The result is a set of position players with a 102 wRC+, eighth-highest in the majors, and 12.0 WAR, second only to the Nationals. It’s the kind of success that could meaningfully shift the Reds’ timeline for contention, or provide them with more trade chips at this year’s deadline or the offseason, should they decide to keep the same timeline. Between the Reds and the Brewers, the NL Central rebuilds are progressing a lot faster than expected, and it’s going to make that division look very interesting in the near future.

Yesterday’s best game score

Jeff Samardzija — 78

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.

I like this start even more than Game Score does. Samardzija went 7 23, striking out ten batters and walking none, and holding the Brewers to two runs on six hits. The Giants would go on to win 7–2, but the game was tied 2–2 through the top half of the 7th, so Samardzija was operating without much margin for error through much of his start.

The Giants righthander has a sizable repertoire, and he used all six of his pitches to plow through the Brewers lineup last night. Samardzija’s strikeout of Villar above came on nasty slider that stayed away from the lefty, but his curve, splitter, sinker, and fourseamer all garnered whiffs throughout the night as well. The size of Samardzija’s arsenal means that he can choose from nearly any combination of speed and movement he wants for a specific plate appearance. Pitch recognition against him must be tough; even if a hitter correctly anticipates that the pitch will be 90mph, for example, he also has to determine if it’s a sinker or a fourseamer. With all these overlapping pitch types, opposing batters really can’t be sure what pitch they’re seeing until it’s too late to do anything about it, which gives Samardzija a lot of options.

After last night, the 32-year-old is sitting on a 4.29 ERA that doesn’t look particularly impressive. But his FIP of 2.89 (which judges pitchers on strikeouts/walks/home runs rather than runs allowed) is much better, and his DRA of 2.57 (which judges pitchers on just about everything we can measure) is similarly excellent. If you look beyond runs allowed, therefore, Samardzija is at or above two wins on the season already, and looks likely to put in his best season since 2014. His strikeout rate of 28.9 percent and his walk rate of 3.4 percent both would be career bests over a full season. With Bumgarner out, Samardzija has stepped up, and filled the gap admirably.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Ryon Healy — 426 feet

This was the first of two dingers for Healy last night, who drove in all of the A’s runs in their 5–3 victory over the Blue Jays. Pretty good!! This was the second time in three games that Healy has gone deep twice; on Saturday, he had also had two doubles, giving him a 4-for-4 day with twelve total bases. That’s done good things for his season line; on Friday, he had a wRC+ of 108, comparable to Ender Inciarte or Kendrys Morales; after last night, it’s up to 127, putting him around peers of Corey Seager and Xander Bogaerts.

Now might not be the best time to mention this, as a result, but Joe Clarkin wasn’t super optimistic about Healy before 2017 started, as his 2016 had set expectations rather high. And indeed, even after his excellent pair of games, Healy’s line is still lower than his 134 wRC+ from 2016. He doesn’t walk much (4.1 percent for his career) and strikes out a ton (22.9 percent), nor does the 3B/1B/DH have any sort of speed. As a result, if he’s going to succeed in the majors, it’ll be through massive blasts like the one pictured above. The pitch from Happ might not look too bad, but you can see that Martin set up outside, and the changeup ran inside. In terms of inches, that might not be a big difference, but to Healy, it’s huge; his uppercut is well-suited to pitches low-and-in, and doesn’t do much against pitches that stay away.

Finally, we can talk about the most important part of this clip: the flashing Holy Toledo sign in left. I had never seen it until now, and I love it. Longtime Oakland broadcaster Bill King (and posthumous winner of the 2017 Ford C. Frick Award) used the phrase frequently, and the sign went up this spring in tribute. More teams should have campy things like this. This officially surpasses the Marlins home run statue, in my mind; I expect other teams to start entering the fray and trying to gain my love via over-the-top set pieces. I want an animatronic Vin Scully in Chavez Ravine by this year’s playoffs. Is that so much to ask?

SABRy tidbits

  • Balancing the need to win in the present and the need to develop the future is always a challenge for competitive teams. At Lets Go Tribe, Matt Lyons thinks that Terry Francona doesn’t actually have to decide when it comes to Bradley Zimmer; not only is he a prospect who should be receiving plate appearances every day for his own sake, he’s better than any other of Cleveland’s options. Whether Francona takes Lyons’s advice and stops platooning Zimmer remains to be seen.
  • This article starts with a real bummer of a fun fact: the contract signed by Ubaldo Jimenez and the Orioles prior to 2014 is Baltimore’s biggest pitcher free agent contract ever. In the first three years of the contract, Jimenez was frustratingly inconsistent; this year, he’s been downright bad, and over at Camden Chat, Mark Brown makes the argument for cutting him loose.
  • Mookie Betts has been good this year, but perhaps not as good as he was expected to be after his stellar 2016. Should Red Sox fans be worried? No, says Matt Collins of Over the Monster; Betts is hitting the ball hard, but suffering from a low BABIP, and without any obvious explanation beyond bad luck. If he’s not unlucky going forward, he should be back to normal in no time.
  • With the draft less than week away, Minor League Ball should be a frequent stop for anyone interested in prospects. You can check this page for all their coverage throughout the week, but there’s other cool stuff there as well, like this analysis by Michael Cook of each team’s unique tendencies in drafting college students, high schoolers, pitchers, and position players over the last few years.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Brandon McCarthy (3.77 projected ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (3.12 projected ERA)

This is an excellent matchup. We pick only based on the pitchers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that these are (probably) the two best teams in the NL, and two teams that have duked it out repeatedly over the last few years, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For Los Angeles, McCarthy is a player whose main limit has been his inconsistent health. And thus far in 2017, he’s been almost completely healthy, and pitching excellently as well. He features five pitches — cutter, sinker, curveball, fourseamer, and changeup — and for the first time in a number of years, those pitches are propelling him to serious success on the mound. His ERA- has been 84 (i.e., 16 percent better than average, after adjusting for park and league), the second-best figure of any season of his career and a mark he hasn’t matched since 2012.

And for Washington, Max Scherzer is Max Scherzer. He’s been a fixture in this preview slot, as he can singlehandedly make a game worth watching. In a year when Clayton Kershaw has been ever so slightly below expectations, Scherzer has a real shot at a well-deserved NL Cy Young: by fWAR, he’s third in the league at 2.1 wins (behind Kershaw at 2.2 and teammate Stephen Strasburg at 2.3); by WARP, he’s first, at 3.2; and by bWAR, he’s third at 2.4, behind Zack Greinke at 2.6 and Mike Leake at 2.7. He’s really good, is the point, and I shouldn’t have to do too much selling to make you watch him pitch.