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Launch angles — July 20, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/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

Brandon Moss brings the Royals back — +.613 WPA

This was actually the second wild comeback of the game (and the inning, for that matter). In the top of the 9th, the Tigers were trailing 2–1, but a two-run home run by Mikie Mahtook put them on top (+.584 WPA), and just three outs away from completing the comeback. But the Royals wasted no time in undoing Mahtook’s handiwork. Alcides Escobar walked — yes, that Alcides Escobar, owner of the 2.4 percent walk rate — and, as is his wont to do, scored from first on Moss’s double. The ill-advised throw home let Moss advance to third, where he scored on Alex Gordon’s sacrifice fly. Good baserunning is about more than just speed, and Moss — who consistently grades out as an average baserunner, despite below-average foot speed — displayed that last night.

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece urging the Royals to go for it, and not to sell, because a) they have a real shot at the playoffs (a 19.3 percent chance currently, per FanGraphs), and b) late-season playoff races are fun and engaging, even if you don’t end up winning them. This was the kind of game I was thinking of when I made that last point. Come-from-behind wins are always going to be fun, of course, but there’s a certain charge to them when you’re anxiously watching the out-of-town scoreboard throughout the comeback, trying to see who you’ll make a game up on and who you’ll keep from advancing. With this win, the Royals made up a game on Cleveland and New York, and are now two games back in both the AL Central and the Wild Card.

Conversely, this had to hurt for Tigers fans. J.D. Martinez was traded away yesterday, signaling the end of the current competitive push in Detroit, and for a return that left many decidedly underwhelmed. When the long-term outlook is bleak, all you want out of a game is some entertainment or enjoyment in the short term. This game came so, so close to providing that, then snatched it away and left the Tigers in the same spot they were before. Ouch.

Yesterday’s best game score

Alex Meyer — 85

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.

Alex Meyer is not a household name. You might remember him from last year’s weird trade between the Twins and Angels, when the Twins made the bizarre decision to acquire Hector Santiago, in hopes that he would shore up their rotation for 2017. (He currently has a 5.63 ERA and a 5.99 FIP.) In exchange for Santiago and a minor-league reliever, the Twins sent Ricky Nolasco and Meyer to the Angels, letting LA essentially buy themselves a prospect by taking on Nolasco’s contract. And Meyer was a prospect, at one point, topping out at #14 on Baseball Prospectus’s 2015 list. He was aging (26 at the time of the trade), and hadn’t been able to stick in the majors yet, but clearly had potential.

This season, he’s made good on that potential, pitching 67 13 innings for the Angels with a 3.74 ERA and 4.11 FIP. And last night, Meyer showed that he’s got the capability to be something more than just mid-rotation fodder, going seven innings with one hit, one walk, seven strikeouts, and no runs.

As pictured in his strikeouts of Wieters and Drew above, the Angels righty has a nasty curveball. Meyer threw it a whopping 42 times last night, more than any of his other pitches, and garnered an impressive eight whiffs on the pitch. But just as important was his control. He managed to allow just one hit on the 16 balls put into play because he kept his offerings down in the zone, and ensured that any contact that did get made wouldn’t be too damaging:

Baseball Savant

At 27, Meyer is no spring chicken, but he’s been a pleasant surprise this season. If last night is any indication, he might not be done surprising yet.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

C.J. Cron — 461 feet

C.J. Cron doesn’t do a whole lot well. He can only play first base, and he doesn’t even do that particularly well; he can’t run fast; he doesn’t hit for average; and he doesn’t take any walks. What he does well is hit the ball very far when he manages to square it up. That skill was on display in this plate appearance last night. Gio González put a changeup right down the middle of the plate, and Cron turned it around in a hurry.

I am a big, big fan of the Sherwin Williams’ paint can in the outfield. I have to imagine that I would be paying attention to very little else on almost any fly ball hit in the right general direction. I’m glad, too, that it’s far enough back that you know any homer that approaches it (or even surpasses it, like this one) is impressive; it takes a part of the ballpark that might otherwise be empty and gives it some perspective.

What’s unfair is that it only applies to the home team. Imagine the power a visiting team would feel if they marched into the Angel Stadium and hit a dinger into the paint can. My proposal is this: any team that sets up some sort of target in their own outfield — preferably a regional-themed one, e.g., a bowl of chili for the Rangers, a maple syrup bottle for the Blue Jays, a plate of lutefisk for the Twins — can collect the prize from any other team. If you take on some risk, you get the chance for reward. Imagine how fun this would be! You could get whole mini-rivalries based on the one time the Tigers hit three home runs into the Red Sox’s bowl of clam chowder.* Rebuilding teams would try to grab a few Cron-like sluggers and collect as much money as possible. It would be great. The Angels are really onto something, here.

* They don’t have to all be food-related, I guess. It’s just what’s coming to mind for me currently.

SABRy tidbits

  • There’s lots of great coverage on the various team sites of the two big trades from the last couple days. Over at AZ Snake Pit, Sean Testerman has a nice introduction to J.D. Martinez, and drops a pretty impressive comp on him.
  • Similarly, Rob Rogacki and Jacob Markle have a breakdown of the three prospects the Tigers received in exchange for Martinez at Bless You Boys. The return still seems light, but every prospect has the potential to turn into something special, and reading about the minor-league exploits of each of the three is a good reminder of that.
  • The other big trade was the Todd Frazier/David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle deal between the White Sox and Yankees. At Pinstripe Alley, Miles Park likes the look of the Yankees bullpen for both 2017 and beyond, while Joshua Nelson of South Side Sox is steeling himself for the hard part of a rebuild.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Madison Bumgarner (3.16 projected ERA) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (4.45 projected ERA)

Jhoulys Chacin has appeared in this space before, and for the same reason he appears in it today: he was facing a good pitcher. The 29-year-old righty is in the midst of a season that isn’t wholly terrible; his 4.33 ERA and 4.48 FIP aren’t outstanding, but he’s thrown more than 100 innings of serviceable ball, and that’s useful. But the fact that he’s been the best or second-best starter in the Padres’ rotation says so, so much more about San Diego than it does Chacin. He’s a filler, basically, both in a major-league rotation and in this part of the recap.

No, the attraction is his opponent, bearded behemoth Madison Bumgarner. This is his second start since returning from the DL for dirt bike-related injuries; his first was a mixed bag, with three runs in seven innings but two walks and two home runs versus just five strikeouts. The Giants are presumably focused on the future more than anything having to do with 2017, and getting Bumgarner back on his feet is probably the single most important thing for that focus. It’s a good thing that the Padres’ lineup, with their 82 wRC+ (28th leaguewide), are basically the equivalent of training wheels. But the Giants are one of only two teams with a worse batting line, so maybe this game will stay close, and be exciting for its own sake, too.