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Launch angles — July 24, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers Robert Hanashiro-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

Kenley Jansen (!) blows a 4-1 lead (!!!) against the Braves (!!!!!) — +.373 WPA

“How the fuck did that happen?”
GIF via MLB.com

Earlier this season, Kenley Jansen made headlines when he piled up 36 strikeouts before issuing his first walk, setting an MLB record. His first free pass came on June 25, after he’d fanned 50 hitters. Heading into Sunday’s action, he had a 0.88 ERA and 0.98 FIP and was a perfect 24-for-24 in save opportunities.

But against the Braves — who ranked 24th in baseball with a 90 wRC+ before this game — he ran into trouble. After coming on in the eighth to retire Brandon Phillips, Jansen started off the ninth by giving up singles to Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp. While he recovered to retire Nick Markakis and Tyler Flowers, he couldn’t seal the deal against Matt Adams, who punished a 1-1 cutter on the inner part of the plate:

Image via Brooks Baseball

As you’d expect, Jansen pounded the zone, throwing 13 of his 17 pitches for strikes. He was pretty predictable, though: According to Gameday, every pitch he threw was a cutter. Prior to this game, 19.9 percent of his cut fastballs had gone for called strikes, and 18.7 percent had gone for swinging strikes — that’s nearly 40 percent putaway pitches. Against the Braves, only four of his 17 cutters were looked over or swung through, which prevented him from striking anyone out.

Jansen can take some solace in the fact that Adams has hit rather well since coming to Atlanta — this was his 15th home run in 211 plate appearances with the Braves — and that L.A. would go on to win this game, as Jim Johnson imploded in the bottom of the 10th. Still, it was a pretty surprising showing from the bullpen ace, who blew his first save since Aug. 26. With Clayton Kershaw down, the Dodgers will need to hold onto all the leads they can get.

Yesterday’s best game score

Corey Kluber — 77

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.

For the second straight day, an Indians starter takes the top spot by Game Score, but this face is a little more familiar than Danny Salazar’s. This is the fifth time in 2017 Corey Kluber has had the best Game Score of the day; only Max Scherzer’s rabid mug has appeared here more often.

The blurb above indicates that a 77 isn’t all that impressive; indeed, a score as low as 77 has placed first in just 28 of our 109 recaps. That round number doesn’t tell the whole story, though. While Kluber did allow a run on five hits and two walks in 7 23 innings, he managed to strike out — wait for it — 14 Blue Jays. It was a season high for the Klubot, and an incredible accomplishment against a team that’s usually pretty good at putting the ball in play.

As you’d expect from someone with those numbers, Kluber had all his pitches working on Sunday. Of the 81 pitches he threw, 120 went for strikes, and the putaway pitches — oh, the putaway pitches. Kluber earned 24 called strikes and 23 swinging strikes, and they were everywhere. He caught Toronto hitters looking at pitches down the middle, and he painted the corners:

Image via Baseball Savant

And he got them to swing through pitches in the zone, as well as wave at balls in the dirt:

Image via Baseball Savant

With eight-plus strikeouts in 10 consecutive starts, Kluber now has a Cleveland franchise record. He’s sitting pretty on a 2.74 ERA and 2.47 FIP, and in a universe where the White Sox traded Chris Sale to an NL team, Kluber would be on track for his second AL Cy Young award. Even if the Red Sox ace takes home the trophy, Kluber will keep racking up the Ks and bringing in the Ws.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Mark Reynolds — 482 feet

GIF via MLB.com

I don’t think most baseball fans — outside Colorado, that is — are aware of just how huge Coors Field is. Here’s the dimensions of the Rockies stadium, overlayed with those of PNC Park:

Image via ESPN Home Run Tracker

The Pirates’ ballpark is one of the most pitcher-friendly in the majors; only two other stadiums suppress home runs more. And Coors Field is even deeper to center! The thin air a mile above sea level means the ball flies off the bat, but the Rockies don’t exactly play in a bandbox.

That makes Mark Reynolds’ accomplishment all the more impressive. This long ball went to straight-away center, several rows deep in the stands. Altitude, schmaltitude — it’s not easy whacking a ball that far! Statcast calls this the third-longest home run of the year, and while that list excludes the incalculable taters from Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper, this shot is still an impressive one.

Just as we all dreamed he would when he signed with the Rockies, Reynolds has made homers like these a habit — this is his fourth appearance on Launch Angles this year. He’s now slugging .286/.375/.525 on the season; even when you adjust for park factors, that works out to a 117 wRC+. With 22 long balls and counting, he’s doing everything he can to keep Colorado in the playoff picture.

SABRy tidbits

Today’s best pitching matchup

Eduardo Rodriguez (4.32 projected ERA) vs. James Paxton (3.56 projected ERA)

Each of these southpaws is a former consensus top-100 prospect — E-Rod in 2014 and 2015, J-Pax (I’ll make it work) in 2012 and 2013. They’re both having career years, too; Paxton is finally healthy and has lowered his ERA to 3.05, while Rodriguez has a 3.66 ERA as he’s battled some injuries. These starters bring in the Ks, issue a few walks, and (to differing extents) let hitters put the ball in the air. At spacious Safeco Field, that’s a recipe for a pitchers’ duel.


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.