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Launch angles — July 18, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/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

Dee Gordon walks the Marlins off — +.343 WPA

There was some fierce competition for the privilege of being highlighted in this slot. The Mariners also had an extra-innings victory, and Kyle Seager’s home run in the top of the 10th bumped their win probability by .342. But Dee Gordon went the extra inch (or the extra thousandth of a win, whatever) with his walk-off, and secured the right to have his picture at the top of this article.

When it comes to walk-offs, though, .343 WPA is somewhat low, because the Marlins had done a lot of the leg work of this comeback before Gordon came to the plate. Two Giancarlo Stanton home runs and one Justin Bour shot gave the Marlins most of their runs, but the game was knotted at 5 from the 7th through the 9th. In the 10th, the first out came quickly, but Derek Dietrich hit a triple in the next PA and ended up at third as the winning run. The Phillies intentionally walked the J.T.s Realmuto and Riddle to load the bases, given that any runs past the first weren’t going to matter, and chose to take their chances with A.J. Ellis and Gordon. I think walking Realmuto makes good sense — a double play would’ve sent the game to the 11th, and he’s in the midst of a breakout offensive season — but Riddle is hitting an anemic .250/.282/.357, and I would much rather try to go through him and Ellis than Ellis and Gordon. And I was clearly and unequivocally correct; Ellis grounded to short, with Dietrich getting thrown out at home, but Gordon hit his triple. Phillies management, give me a call. I will be your intentional walk consultant for a very reasonable annual salary.

I’m glad the Marlins walked it off with Gordon instead of Ellis, though, if only because I am childishly entertained at the sight of the entire roster chasing the speedy Gordon around the infield trying to drench him with ice and bubblegum. At this time of year, it’s very easy to talk about teams whose games matter and don’t matter, so it’s nice to be reminded by the joy of the 42–49 Marlins (and the disappointment of the 30–61 Phillies) that every game matters, if you let it.

Yesterday’s best game score

Jon Lester — 77

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.

This was a classic Jon Lester start: seven innings, six strikeouts, just one walk, three hits, and one run, with a whopping twelve groundouts and just one fly out. The big lefty is rapidly approaching the halfway point of his contract with the Cubs (which, incidentally, is wild; it feels like his free agency just happened), and he’s shown no signs of changing his style or his general effectiveness over his three years in the South Side. Lester is en route to another solid season of four-ish WAR, and will presumably turn in such seasons until he retires or MLB is no more.

His modus operandi last night was, again, what we’re used to from Lester. A lot of strikes (68 in 102 pitches), a lot of balls on the ground in front of the Cubs’ excellent infield defense, and enough whiffs (13) to keep things under control when that defense couldn’t get to a ball for whatever reason. Lester’s biggest issue this season has been the long ball, so any night where he keeps the ball on the ground so effectively (and thus in the park) is a good night. It doesn’t hurt when he also throws the filthy cutter, pictured above making Freddie Freeman look foolish.

With José Quintana a new Cub, Lester no longer has to carry the Cubs rotation. I generally don’t buy into the pop-psychological analyses of a roster or player. But with Jake Arrieta mysteriously ineffective, John Lackey old and bad, and Kyle Hendricks basically who you would’ve expected him to be before his out-of-nowhere 2.13 ERA last season, there was a lot riding on Lester’s performance, and it’s easy to imagine that affecting him in some way. Whether that’s the case or not, the one-two punch of Quintana-Lester that the Cubs displayed over the last two games (with both of them putting in the best game score of their respective nights) will probably be a familiar one before the season (and postseason) is over.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Lucas Duda — 491 feet

Like the biggest play, this was a category with some competition last night. Jabari Blash of the Padres hit a 477-foot shot that immediately slotted in as the seventh-longest home run of the season. But the only reason it didn’t jump to sixth was because Duda had already done his thing and taken the number three slot with this blast.

High fastballs at the top of the zone have been in vogue for a few years now. If located precisely, they can look extremely appealing and be nigh-unhittable, generating lots of whiffs and infield flies. But that’s a critically important “if,” because if the pitch is just a hair too low, it becomes very, very hittable. This Adam Wainwright pitch was technically above the zone:

but not by enough to keep Duda from lining it up. This strategy works pretty well for Wainwright, generally; last night, he had four whiffs on fastballs of some variety, almost all of which were located at the top of the zone. Duda just managed to square up a pitch at his armpits. Sometimes you execute well and you still get beat.

I’d encourage you to watch the actual clip, because the sound of the ball coming off Duda’s bat is outstanding. It’s like a gunshot, or a whip crack, and it leaves absolutely no doubt in the mind of any onlooker that the baseball is headed out in a hurry. The Citi Field onlookers don’t cheer so much as they gasp and let out an involuntary “ooooh,” and the full effect is impressive. You wouldn’t know it from listening to the SNY announcer (Gary Cohen?), however. Like Ryan yesterday, I’m mad at a commentator for failing to appreciate what he’s in the process of observing. I know the Mets were down by a bunch — even the dugout fails to get too pumped up by this blast, with only Jay Bruce reacting at all — but this was a clearly impressive home run. Nor is ignorance a defense; the pavilion makes this shot both aesthetically pleasing and obviously very, very far gone. Show some dang emotion, commentators! Even when your team is losing, a home run like this deserves a brief freak out.

SABRy tidbits

  • Our own Devan Fink opined last week that Jack Conlon, drafted by the Orioles but unsigned after failing their physical, could usher in some change to the amateur system by signing with a different team altogether. It looks like Conlon reads BtBS (or just didn’t want to go back to school), because he has reportedly signed with the Giants. Grant Brisbee breaks down the deal at McCovey Chronicles, with the upshot being that circumventing the draft and trading cash for prospects directly is a very good thing.
  • With a surprising 45–46 record, the Braves are being forced to balance fully committing to the future against increasing their focus on 2017. In that vein, they’ve decided to bench the struggling-but-very-talented prospect Dansby Swanson, rather than send him down to the minors or keep playing him regularly in the majors. At Talking Chop, Ivan the Great is not a fan of the decision.
  • Billy Beane apparently has heard some of the frustration among A’s fans with his regime. After trading away Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, he acknowledged that the team has endured the “tanking” portion of a rebuild without any of the eventual improvement, and has lost all of its well-liked players along the way. At Athletics Nation, Jeremy F. Koo sees a way for the A’s to make this work, but if and only if a) prospects develop as they’re intended to, and b) the A’s ownership follows through on their promises of a new stadium (and more generally, full-throated support of the team). If either of those things seems unlikely to you (and they should!), the future of the A’s should be worrisome.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Miguel González (5.23 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.61 projected ERA)

Whoof. This is one of the more egregious examples of a lopsided matchup taking the title of “best” thanks entirely to the efforts of one of the participants. González is not projected to be good, and with good reason; each of his ERA, FIP, and DRA is over 5. And yet! He had the best game score of the night on two separate occasions this season, back on April 19th and April 25th. He’s capable of intermittent excellence, should the fly balls fall right.

Still, if you’re watching this game for the pitching, you’re watching because of his opponent. Kershaw might have some ground to make up in the NL Cy Young race on Max Scherzer, but only because he went through a weird spate of home runs. It hasn’t lasted, and he’s looked like vintage Kershaw over the last few weeks. Projection systems tend to struggle with true outlier players, and the projected 2.61 ERA is probably an example of that. Kershaw hasn’t had an ERA that high since 2010, but Steamer and ZiPS just aren’t built to handle someone like the Dodgers lefty. That’s a good reason to watch him pitch, too, and cut through a White Sox lineup that should offer little in the way of resistance.