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Launch angles — July 2, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros
That’s how he stands at second! Perfectly coiffed!
Shanna Lockwood-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

Yuli Gurriel completes the Astros comeback/Yankees meltdown — +.566 WPA

GIF via

The Yankees and Astros have been the juggernauts of the American League this season — they rank first and second, respectively, in third-order winning percentage. But where Houston has played up to its potential, New York has fallen short of its expected record, thanks to a series of blown leads and close losses. Despite being a vastly inferior team, the Red Sox now lead the Bombers by two games in the AL East.

On Saturday night, we saw why the Astros and Yankees have taken divergent paths. New York pulled ahead 5-2 in the sixth inning on a grand slam from Didi Gregorius, and the teams traded solo homers to make the score 6-3. With Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman left to pitch the final two innings, the outcome seemed certain, but Houston decided to flip the script.

It started innocently enough. With one out, Jose Altuve worked a walk off Betances, then stole second and third on successive pitches before scoring on a Carlos Correa groundout. The Astros had a run, sure, but they had just four outs to grab two more. Then Evan Gattis mashed a solo shot to left, and things got out of hand.

Carlos Beltran earned another walk, and pinch-runner Josh Reddick wound up at third thanks to the defensive incompetence of Chris Carter. After Marwin Gonzalez took the third base on balls of the frame, Joe Girardi yanked Betances and brought in Chapman for the four-out save. The flamethrowing lefty hit Gurriel with seven pitches, all of them fastballs of at least 100 mph, and the last of them a little too close:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Even before this game, Gurriel had done surprisingly well on inside pitches. His two-run double, followed by Brett Gardner’s baserunning blunder in the top of the ninth, sealed the victory for Houston.

With this narrow win, the Astros moved to 55-27, 8.5 games ahead of the Red Sox for the No. 1 seed in the AL. On the other side, the comeback gave the Yankees — at 43-36 — their 15th blown save of the season, tying them with the Rays for the second-most in the majors. Houston and New York have gone 10-6 and 9-16, respectively, in one-run games. Even though they’re similarly talented, one squad’s ability to grind through close games has given it an edge.

Yesterday’s best game score

Ricky Nolasco — 95

GIF via

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.

Entering last night, Ricky Nolasco had a 4.86 ERA and 5.72 FIP, while making seven of his 16 starts in the AL’s most pitcher-friendly stadium. The Mariners, meanwhile, had the sixth-best park-adjusted offense in the majors, with a .266/.337/.422 line over the first half of the year. So of course Nolasco took home the Launch Angles crown with a complete-game shutout.

Nolasco rides or dies on balls in play (usually the latter, as evidenced by his .312 lifetime BABIP), and such was the case against the M’s, who put 23 balls in play against him while striking out only seven times. The Los Angeles defense was working smoothly, as Nolasco allowed just three hits, so for one night, Nolasco got to be king.

That’s not to say his approach was flawed, though. He had a clear strategy — attack Seattle hitters with fastballs…

Image via Baseball Savant

…and get them to chase breaking balls:

Image via Baseball Savant

On a day when Chris Sale, Rich Hill, and Gio Gonzalez each had Game Scores of at least 80, a noble and honorable right-hander showed those southpaws who’s really in charge. And he came close to a Maddux!

Well, kind of. Regardless, Nolasco’s sixth career shutout earned a W for the Angels, who are now just a game behind the Rays for the second wild card spot. That’s certainly worth celebrating:

GIF via

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Brandon Moss — 472 feet

GIF via

We had quite a few moonshots yesterday. Khris Davis krushed kracked hit a 458-foot four-bagger to center field in the Oakland Coliseum, and Miguel Sano sent a 461-foot dinger past the Kauffman Stadium cheap seats. This one takes the cake, though, as the sixth-longest home run hit this season — and a historic one for Kansas City:

During the club’s pennant runs in 2014 and 2015, the Royals offense defined itself as a light-hitting crew built around speed. The team’s home run totals ranked 30th and 24th, respectively, in those years. But things have been a little different in 2017 — after clubbing six homers in the double-header yesterday, Kansas City ranks a solid 16th with 98 long balls.

Dayton Moore brought Moss in for his power — last season with the Cardinals, he slugged 28 round-trippers in just 464 plate appearances — and while he’s struggled to tap into it this year, Jose Berrios threw him a full-count fastball that caught just enough of the plate:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Moss is still a strong dude, so he flicked his wrists and plopped that outside pitch into the fountain. While the Royals still don’t hit for a ton of power, Moss and co. have brought them to respectability.

SABRy tidbits

  • At times in 2017, Masahiro Tanaka appears to have turned around his disastrous season, only to fall apart in his next start. But his recent two outings — in which he’s tossed 14 innings of 1.29-ERA, 2.21-FIP ball — might be different. Ryan Chichester of Pinstripe Alley breaks down what’s changed for the Japanese righty.
  • Mike Clevinger is a lot younger — and probably worse in general — than Tanaka. Like the Yankees hurler, though, Clevinger has looked much better recently after an inconsistent start to the year. Might he be having a Cliff Lee/Corey Kluber/Carlos Carrasco-esque breakout? Two-timing BtBS writer Merritt Rohlfing compares Clevinger’s hot streak to those starters for Let’s Go Tribe.
  • Who doesn’t like beer? (Says the 20-year-old baseball writer.) And who doesn’t love tacos? The new Statcast data on sprint speed is the perfect combination of scouting and stats, like a refreshing ale to wash down a hearty Mexican treat. Viva El Birdos’s Ben Markham muses on what the future of these two disciplines could look like.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Max Scherzer (3.01 projected ERA) vs. Carlos Martinez (3.01 projected ERA)

It really hasn’t been covered enough that, somehow, Max Scherzer has been even better than ever this season. His 47 ERA- and 64 FIP- are each career bests, thanks to an ever-increasing strikeout rate, a walk rate that remains low, and all of a sudden a lot less hard contact. I’d still give the edge to that fellow out in L.A., but as far as right-handed starters go, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than Scherzer.

Likewise, Martinez has had a career year, with new lows — or highs? — in ERA- (67) and FIP- (80). He’s striking guys out like crazy while limiting walks, just as Scherzer has done. The Nationals have the second-best offense in the NL, so he’ll have a tough task, but he’s gone toe-to-toe with some aces in the past. These two righties should make for a lot of Ks and not a lot of runs.

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.