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Launch angles — July 15, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/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

Yasiel Puig puts the Dodgers on top — .716 WPA

There were all sorts of dramatic games last night, as if the excitement had been building up since Sunday and came out at the first possible opportunity. The Rays beat the Angels in extras; the Red Sox won on a walk-off walk; the Cubs gave up a lead in the 8th and regained it in the 9th. But it was the Dodgers and Puig who, by WPA, had the most exciting moment. LA had tagged Marlins starter Dan Straily for three runs over five innings, but Dodgers starter Brandon McCarthy was no better, allowing four runs in his five innings of work. The bullpens kept the scores in place until the top of the 9th, and A.J. Ramos came on to close it out for Miami. A Cody Bellinger groundout and a Logan Forsythe strikeout put the Dodgers one out away from a loss, but a Joc Pederson single and a Yasmani Grandal walk set the table for Puig, a table which he promptly cleared.

It’s hard to blame Ramos too much for what went wrong. This wasn’t a terrible place to put a fastball, both generally and to Puig specifically. The Cuban outfielder just managed to put some lift and force into a 94mph fastball on the lower-outer part of the plate; at some point, you just have to shrug, and acknowledge your defeat. Puig, interestingly, has been a reverse split guy for his MLB career, running a better wRC+ against righties (134) than lefties (122). This is despite the fact that he strikes out more and walks less against righthanders; the reason he still hits them better on the whole is his increased power, mostly, as displayed last night.

Puig has always been an ultra-fun player, and I think MLB is more fun when he’s good than when he isn’t. His bat flip and trot on this home run were relatively confined, and on the whole that’s probably a good thing. But if we got some of the old Puig swagger back in the second half of the season, I wouldn’t be unhappy.

Yesterday’s best game score

Gio González — 84

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.

As if the Nationals needed another dominant pitcher, González came back from the All-Star Break with a bang, getting one out in the ninth (8 13 innings) and striking out six while giving up just four hits, two walks, and no runs. This wasn’t the only excellent start of the night — Jacob deGrom went 8 full innings with eleven strikeouts, one walk, four hits, and one run, a start that you might find more impressive than González’s — but by Game Score, the 85 in Washington just beat out the 84 in Queens.

And that’s not to say that González wasn’t outstanding. With only eight whiffs on 112 pitches, inducing swings-and-misses wasn’t the most important part of his game. Instead, he succeeded by generating a bunch of weak contact, including a hefty thirteen ground balls. As the clips above show, when González is succeeding, it’s because he’s locating the ball low in the zone and keeping batters from making authoritative contact on it. Last night, he had that strategy working to a T:

Now that we’re past the Break, it feels appropriate to start thinking about some of the possible details of the playoffs, and, boy, the Nationals starters are going to be tough to beat. Max Scherzer-Stephen Strasburg is about as good of a 1-2 punch as you can imagine, and following them up with González — in a matchup when their opponent has almost certainly seen the quality of starter drop off much more rapidly as they’ve moved down the depth chart — is almost unfair. Of course, given the Nats’ struggles with relief pitching, a dominant starter throwing into the 9th inning might be one of their only paths to victory on any given night. But when October rolls around, and the back ends of rotations become all but irrelevant, the Nationals are going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Yasiel Puig — 449 feet

Yeah, Puig had a pretty good night. This home run provides a nice contrast to the one that he hit later. Where that one came on a decent pitch against which Puig had to utilize some skill to hit well, this was an obvious mistake pitch, and it got hit like one. I mean, even setting aside the huge dinger that resulted, this:

is not where curveballs belong. Puig quickly identified Straily’s mistake, and just as quickly sent it to the moon, hitting it a whopping 449 feet. There’s just a hint of the electric Puig experience that defined 2013 and 2014 — a bit of a strut out of the box, a bit of flamboyance in how the bat is handled — though by the time the camera finds him rounding first, his head is down and he’s in a speedy circuit of the bases. But I’ll say it again: baseball is more fun when Puig is crushing dingers and taking names, so here’s hoping we get some of that back. As mentioned, his 2017 has been lopsided — he has a 134 wRC+ against righties, and just a 36 versus lefties — but useful, especially in the strong side of a platoon. I am ready for some playoff heroics and crushed October dingers courtesy of Mr. Puig, and if he spent the final three months of the season regaining his swagger, I would not object in the slightest.

SABRy tidbits

  • After being designated for assignment yesterday, the Pablo Sandoval experience is over in Boston, despite nearly $50m remaining on his contract. For the main SBNation baseball site, Marc Normandin looks at how it ranks among the worst contracts in MLB today (spoiler: not well), while Grant Brisbee wonders what lessons the Red Sox can take from the fiasco. That last one in particular is worth your time, since Grant comes to a conclusion that not everyone will share, probably.
  • With a good start last night (preceded by a #Hugwatch false alarm), the trade speculation around Sonny Gray is entering high gear. Alex Hall of Athletics Nation has you covered, with a guide to Gray’s market and this season’s trade deadline market for pitching more generally.
  • It’s been a long, long time since Jonny Venters was a stud reliever with the Braves. Now, five years and three Tommy John surgeries later, he’s trying to work his way through the Rays’ minor league system and back in major league ball. At DRays Bay, Adam Sanford breaks down what needs to happen for Venters to complete the miraculous comeback he’s aiming for.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Chris Sale (2.92 projected ERA) vs. Luis Severino (3.91 projected ERA)

This might look like one of the standard, lopsided pitching contests that is often featured in this slot, but it’s not; that’s the Madison Bumgarner/Jhoulys Chacin matchup, or the Max Scherzer/Luis Castillo showdown. This game is actually quite competitive, though the projections might not fully show it. Chris Sale is Chris Sale; I need to spend approximately three-and-a-half seconds talking about him. He’s so good. So, so good. We are in the midst of a possibly historic season from him, and every second of it should be enjoyed.

But his opponent, Luis Severino, is no slouch himself. A projected 3.91 ERA is actually a fairly good mark, considering the degree to which projections regress a players’ performance; his 3.54 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and 2.88 DRA through the first half of the season are even better. After struggling somewhat in his first two seasons, the young Yankees righty has seemed to put it all together this year, turning his velocity from the only tool in his arsenal to just one of many. The results have been great, obviously, and if he manages to sustain something resembling this kind of performance into the long-term, he could be a recurring feature of Yankees rosters for the next several years.