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Launch angles — July 23, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Mets
Gatorade is a lot better than tears.
Andy Marlin-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

Wilmer Flores hits a walk-off homer — +.468 WPA

GIF via

It’s been almost two years since the bizarre Carlos Gomez trade that wasn’t, where Wilmer Flores began crying on the field after he thought the Mets traded him to the Brewers. That incident — a player forced to play a lame-duck game for the team that signed him seven years earlier, responding with raw emotion as the stakes overwhelm him — turned him into something of a fan favorite in New York, with chants of “Wil-mer Flo-res (clap, clap, clapclapclap)” ringing out through Queens during his at-bats.

The play that really cemented his status as a Mets legend, though, was the walk-off home run from a few days after the botched trade. Leading off the bottom of the 12th against the Nationals’ Felipe Rivero on July 31, 2015, Flores took a 1-1 fastball to deep left-center:

GIF via

Saturday’s long ball, off the AthleticsSimon Castro, didn’t come in a game between two bitter division rivals, or in a year when the Mets will make much noise. It likely won’t make Flores a cult hero again. Don’t expect this shot to ignite a second-half run for the ages as New York overtakes Washington and bolts to the pennant.

Still, a walk-off’s a walk-off. From July 31 to the end of the 2015 season, Flores notched a 124 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances. Last year, he slugged his way to a 112 wRC+ in 335 plate appearances. After last night, he’s at 103 in 237 plate appearances this year. With solid production at the plate — and some clutch hits like this — those chants will keep ringing out, no matter how low the Mets sink.

Yesterday’s best game score

Danny Salazar — 88

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.

GIF via

It’s been a weird year for Danny Salazar. After 10 starts of 5.50-ERA ball, he found himself yanked from the rotation at the end of May. He made two appearances out of the bullpen before hitting the DL with a shoulder issue. The team activated him for Saturday’s game, and suddenly he looked like his old self. His performance tends to ebb and flow, and right now, he’s flowing.

The Blue Jays were hopeless against Salazar. He faced the minimum 21 batters through seven shutout innings, erasing a Kevin Pillar single — the lone baserunner against him — with a double-play ball off the bat of Ryan Goins. With eight strikeouts to zero walks, and seven grounders to six fly balls, he looked like the dominant Salazar of old.

Through the earlier part of this year, Salazar moved away from his heaters, throwing his four- and two-seam fastball less than 60 percent of the time combined. In this start, 63 of his 86 pitches were fastballs, and those pitches were working. Toronto took his fastballs for 48 strikes, with 11 of them whiffs. The heat was dialed up all game, in and around the strike zone:

Image via Baseball Savant

Salazar was still throwing 97 in the seventh inning, which would end up being his last; apparently, Terry Francona wanted to play it safe in his first start back in the Show. Of course, Andrew Miller blew the 1-0 lead, robbing Salazar of the chance at a victory, but taking the top spot in Launch Angles is a nice consolation prize.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Bryce Harper — 467ish feet

GIF via

One thing I should note: This is an approximate distance, as the Baseball Savant game feed from the Nationals-Diamondbacks contest did not register this shot, for whatever reason. Luckily, ESPN’s been doing the dirty work of manually estimating home run distance. And since the longest home run recorded by Savant was Francisco Lindor’s 438-foot walk-off, I feel safe putting Bryce in the top spot.

This concludes tonight’s episode of “Behind the Metrics.” Now back to our regularly scheduled recap:

For as phenomenal a hitter as he is, Bryce Harper has never quite dominated southpaws. Prior to yesterday’s game, he had a career triple-slash of .260/.349/.437 against lefties — solid production, obviously, but a far cry from his .297/.406/.551 line against righties. Of the 24 home runs he’d hit this season, just two were off left-handers.

But a southpaw making his MLB debut? Well, that’s just asking for trouble. Anthony Banda had struggled this year in Triple-A Reno, with a 5.08 ERA and 4.67 FIP in 18 starts, yet Arizona called up the top prospect to make a spot start for Taijuan Walker (paternity leave). Three batters into the game, Banda tried to sneak a changeup past Harper with a full count, and the slugger made the rookie pay:

Image via Brooks Baseball

While I don’t usually spend too much time on announcer commentary for home runs, one of F.P. Santangelo’s remarks here rubbed me the wrong way:

I was screaming into the talk-back to the truck while that was in the air — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a farther home run, folks!

Let’s disregard the unironic use of “folks.” On Friday night — not 24 hours before Harper’s long ball — Aaron Judge damn near hit a ball out of Safeco Field. You didn’t get a chance to see that one, F.P.? Calls like that are why the Nationals booth was ranked second-to-last in an Awful Announcing fan poll earlier this year. Harper’s a demigod, but give Judge his due, too.

(I get that Santangelo probably implied “in person” and/or “from a Nationals player” when he said “seen”; it’s still a stupid comment.)

SABRy tidbits

  • In his first game with the Diamondbacks, J.D. Martinez almost broke his hand getting hit by a pitch, which wouldn’t have been the first time for an Arizona hitter. AZ Snake Pit’s Jim McLennan, who has experience playing cricket, wonders why baseball players don’t wear the goofy, oversized gloves you see down under.
  • After trading for David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, the Yankees have an abundance of riches in their bullpen. What’s the best way to balance those two, plus Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman? Over at Pinstripe Alley, Miles Park tries to figure out the role that fits each reliever best.
  • With Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor supplying highlight after highlight, one of the Indians’ veterans has gone more unnoticed. But the year after a pretty scary shoulder injury, Michael Brantley has contributed for the Tribe, slashing .300/.367/.429 in 74 games. BtBS’s Merritt Rohlfing is just fine with that production, thank you very much. (By “you,” I mean Brantley.)
  • While they each homered yesterday, Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk are far from great hitters — they strike out a ton and don’t walk enough to make up for it. Tyler O’Neill, acquired on Friday in a one-for-one trade with the Mariners, has a similar skill set. Do the Cardinals have a type? Viva El Birdos’ Ben Markham looks at the three free-swinging sluggers.
  • Earlier in the year, Mitch Moreland tied an AL record with doubles in seven straight games. Recently, though, the two-baggers have dried up, along with pretty much everything else on offense. Over the Monster’s Matt Collins digs through the numbers in Moreland’s slump.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Sean Newcomb (4.35 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.59 projected ERA)

A top prospect for the Angels and Braves — and the last remaining piece from the Andrelton Simmons trade — Newcomb has been pretty unfortunate this year. He’s walked 10.2 percent of opposing hitters (MLB average: 8.5 percent), despite throwing 65.6 percent of his pitches for strikes (MLB average: 63.6 percent). Likewise, although he’s been one of the better starters in the majors when it comes to limiting hard contact, he’s been one of the worst at suppressing hits. He’ll have a tough task turning his luck around against the NL’s best offense.

Kershaw, of course, is Kershaw. A little over a month ago, he gave up six runs in 6 13 innings against the Mets; since then, he’s allowed two runs — total — in 36 frames. His ERA for the season is 2.07, the best in baseball, but you already knew that. In this battle of the southpaws, the veteran has the clear advantage over the rookie.

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.