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Launch angles — July 17, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Baltimore Orioles
I think blue suits him.
Evan Habeeb-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

Tim Beckham ends the game with a double play — -.451 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Ooof. This is our 102nd installment of Launch Angles (excluding those fake recaps from last week — very dishonest media!), and it’s just the fourth time that the biggest play has been a negative one. But this play really stands out from its three predecessors: Not only did this cause a bigger win probability swing than any play yesterday, it might be the biggest negative play of the year.

Let’s run through all the factors that went into this:

  1. The Rays trailed the Angels 4-3 in the top of the ninth. If Tampa Bay didn’t put another run across, Los Angeles would win (that’s, you know, how baseball work). But the deficit was only one, so the visitors had hope, and Bud Norris found himself in a sticky situation…
  2. The bases were loaded. Wanna score a run? It helps to have runners on base. With Brad Miller on first, Steven Souza on second, and Peter Bourjos on third, the Rays had the winning run just 180 feet away. But there was one issue…
  3. One out was already recorded. Corey Dickerson struck out to lead off the inning, so the Rays had just two outs left to work with. Still, that could be worse — a sacrifice fly would tie the game. According to Tom Tango’s run expectancy matrix, teams average about 1.5 runs when they have the bases loaded and one out (look, it’s an average, I know they can’t actually score a half run).

If any of that were different — if the Angels led 5-3, or if Souza got picked off second, or if two men were out when Beckham stepped in — the double play wouldn’t have been so painful. All the elements for a massive letdown came together to make Beckham the rally-killer. The only play that could result in a bigger WPA swing would be a triple play with no one out, which would really be something to see.

That’s a whole lot of words, so let’s go with one more sweet GIF:

GIF via MLB.com

Yesterday’s best game score

Jose Quintana — 88

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.

Traditionalists might not have been especially fond of the price the Cubs paid for Jose Quintana — after all, he came to the North Side with a 4.49 ERA in 104 13 innings this season (to say nothing of his 4-8 record). But the deal made sense for both sides; Quintana has long been one of the most underrated starters in the majors, and the Cubs sorely needed a rotation upgrade.

In his first MLB start post-White Sox, Quintana made the Cubs look pretty smart. The southpaw shut down the Orioles over seven sparkling frames, allowing no runs on three hits with 12 strikeouts. Of his 100 pitches, 67 went for strikes, with 14 called strikes and an astounding 21 swinging strikes. When the O’s put the ball in play against him, they were just 3-for-11, with only one runner in scoring position.

No singular offering stole the show for Quintana. His four-seam and two-seam fastballs each had strike rates above 70 percent; the former chipped in seven whiffs, while the latter induced five outs on balls in play. Baltimore had no chance against his curveball, which caused nine swings-and-misses in 26 appearance. And eight of his 10 changeups went for strikes, with two whiffs added in for good measure.

On his first day with the Cubs, Quintana shaved 29 points off his ERA, which now sits at a remarkable 4.20. For a club whose rotation has stagnated this year, he should continue to provide stability, and even some more dominant efforts like this one. Take that, luddites!

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Abraham Almonte — 505 feet

GIF via MLB.com

When you’re a fan of a losing team, the color commentator can be the only reason you tune in to watch. I fell in love with the Orioles back in 2011 — a year in which they went 69-93 and finished last for the fourth straight season — partially because of the luster a new manager offered, and partially because of the vibrancy and exuberance Gary Thorne brought to the booth every game. His call of the final play of the season, a fluke single that didn’t change Baltimore’s standing one bit, will always be legendary.

The play depicted above isn’t just any home run. In the ninth inning of Sunday’s Indians-Athletics game, Abraham Almonte hit the longest home run of the Statcast era. He beat Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and every other player in the game. For a guy who missed half of last year with a PED suspension and has a lifetime slash line of .248/.301/.380, it was a career-defining moment.

How did Matt Underwood call it on the Cleveland broadcast? Here’s a transcript, with notes of where the action happens:

…three runs twice, [Almonte swings] two runs twice, and four runs once. That ball [ball lands several rows up in center-right field upper deck] is gone. Abraham Almonte crushes one. [That’ll] make it a 7-3 ballgame.

If you weren’t facing the TV, you’d think the ball barely cleared the fence. The volume of Underwood’s voice didn’t change from the dull monotone he used when reciting the statistic, which he continued talking about even after Almonte made contact. This was no act — Underwood wasn’t pretending he was hosting the Masters. Even in a game where his team trailed by five runs, he surely could’ve summoned a little more energy than this.

Cleveland couldn’t avert the sweep in Oakland, which means it leads Minnesota by just 1.5 games in the AL Central. While the Tribe remain the favorites to win the division, commentary like this belongs in the cellar. Indians fans rated their broadcasters the 20th-best in baseball earlier this year, and based on this call, I’d say they were too generous.

SABRy tidbits

  • Trades! Yesterday we saw some more action on the hot stove, as the Nationals dealt for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to shore up their bullpen. Federal Baseball’s Patrick Reddington has the analysis from Washington’s perspective, while Athletics Nation’s Jeremy Koo breaks down what Oakland got in return.
  • From 2013 to 2016, the Yankees were consistently able to win one-run games, despite being a mediocre team overall. This year, that hasn’t been the case, as the club is 9-18 when the margin of victory is one run. Over at Pinstripe Alley, Matt Provenzano explains why they used to excel, and why they’re struggling in 2017.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Stephen Strasburg (3.35 projected ERA) vs. Scott Feldman (4.65 projected ERA)

Just because the projections are bearish on Feldman, doesn’t mean we have to be. For a few years now, he’s been beating his FIP, thanks to decent BABIPs and strand rates. This season, he’s put up a perfectly respectable 3.94 ERA and 4.25 FIP for the Reds, and he pitched a phenomenal game back in May against the Giants, so he could hold his own in this game.

Of course, Strasburg is still the main attraction here. Apparently irked by my colleague Henry Druschel’s suggestion that he was pitching to contact, Strasburg has gone on a tear recently — in the nine starts since we published that article, he’s fanned 30.9 percent of opponents. (I’m also contractually obligated to note that he has a total of 69 strikeouts in those starts.) Feldman has shown a glimmer of potential, but Strasburg is fully living up to his.


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.