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Launch angles — July 25, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/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

Cody Bellinger kills a rally to put the Dodgers ahead — +.555 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

With two on and one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Dodgers down 4-3, Cody Bellinger saw three straight curveballs from Twins reliever Taylor Rogers. He swung over the top of the first one that was below the zone. He got well out in front of the second one that was belt high on the inner third and drove it probably 350 feet, but foul. The third one was away, but not far enough. With the timing of the Rogers’ curveball probably figured out at that point, Bellinger reached out and drove the 0-2 pitch 403 feet over the center field wall, giving the Dodgers a 6-4 lead.

Zone via MLB Gameday

Despite entering the game with a 200 wRC+ and .466 wOBA against curveballs, Bellinger noted that he had been struggling with the pitch lately in his post-game interview with Alanna Rizzo of SportsNet LA:

I have to give credit to the guys that got on in front of me, and then also a lot to Justin Turner. The past couple weeks I’ve been rolling over a lot on curveballs and he got me in the machine just to try and hit the ball in the air and that’s what happened right there.

Perhaps whoever is tasked with advanced scouting for the Twins had noticed Bellinger’s recent struggles with the curveball and maybe that’s why Jason Castro called for three straight. But no matter the reason, Bellinger was ready for it and did exactly what Turner had been trying to get him do in the cage, elevate.

Monday night marked Bellinger’s 80th major league game. Even if he hadn’t hit a home run he would’ve had the most home runs by any player through their first 80 games in MLB history; now that record is 28. There’s no telling how many more milestones like that he’ll reach as this season winds down. Oh yeah, and he only turned 22 years old twelve days ago. I feel old.

Take a bow, kid.
Gif via MLB.com

Yesterday’s best game score

James Paxton — 84

Gif via MLB.com

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 isn’t James Paxton’s breakout season, that was last year. This is his “I’m not kidding. For real, I am an ace and you will respect me as such” season. He continued to assert dominance on Monday night against the Red Sox by hurling seven scoreless innings and striking out 10, walking none, and allowing just four hits — all singles.

Paxton induced just 10 swinging strikes on the evening, but peppered the zone with his four-seam fastball all night and generated weak contact from Boston’s hitters. He threw the four-seamer 76 percent of the time on Monday, but the average exit velocity on the 12 that were put into play was just 81 miles per hour. Of those 12 batted balls, only four had an exit velocity over 95 miles per hour, and only one of those had a positive launch angle. The little hard contact that Paxton did allow resulted in ground balls.

Zone Charts via Baseball Savant

This gem against the Red Sox saw Paxton’s ERA dip below three on the season to 2.84 and moved him above Marcus Stroman into third place on the American League leaderboard. He now trails only Chris Sale and Corey Kluber; pretty nice company. Even more impressive is that his FIP dropped to 2.43 and jumped him above Kluber, he now trails only Sale in that category. Due to some time on the DL, Paxton doesn’t yet qualify on any leaderboards, but he will soon enough. Last year he broke out and this year he’s proved it wasn’t a fluke.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Hunter Renfroe — 462 feet

Gif via MLB.com

This is a delightful home run. Everything about it is great; the immediate recognition of how far it had gone, the bat flip, and of course where it ultimately landed. This is actually the second time that Renfroe has reached the roof of the Western Metal Supply Company building — he did it last year against then Dodgers rookie Jose Dé León — but Monday’s blast clearly tops his previous effort.

In fact, let’s take a look at the other one to compare.

Gif via MLB.com

Now that we’ve seen them both, let’s break it down with a side by side comparison of the important details.

Hunter Renfroe’s Western Metal Supply Co. Home Runs

Key Components 9/28/16 7/24/17
Key Components 9/28/16 7/24/17
Opposing Team Dodgers Mets
Opposing Pitcher José De León Jacob deGrom
Pitch Type Four-Seam Fastball Changeup
Pitch Speed 93 mph 86 mph
Location Low, inside Middle, inner-third
Count 1-0 2-2
Exit Velocity 109 mph 110 mph
Launch Angle 32° 28°
Distance 434 ft. 462 ft.
Bat Flip No Yes
Fan Interaction Guy on railing drops ball to section below Rooftop attendees scurry to collect souvenir
Data via Baseball Savant and my powers of observation

The location of the pitch against Dé León was more impressive, but Monday’s home run is better in every other manner imaginable. That it came in a two-strike count, on an offspeed pitch, and against an ace is impressive enough, but when you add in the nearly 30 extra feet and the bat flip? Renfroe topped himself in a big way.

Lastly, we take a look at the fans who interacted with each dinger. His blast last year made the roof, but barely. The ball found a fan on the railing who couldn’t hold on and dropped it down to the seats below. The home run against deGrom was hit so far that even the fans on the rooftop saw it sail over their heads. They all had to turn around to chase it down! The guy who was able to come up with it (gif below) was rightfully excited, but had no reason to expect that he might catch a home run sitting up there.

Gif via MLB.com

This is a good reminder that if you’re attending a game and Hunter Renfroe or a similar slugger is playing, keep your head on a swivel. Even if you think you’re out of home run range, you’re probably not.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jameson Taillon (3.58 projected ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (3.24 projected ERA)

This is a great pitching matchup, but it involves two teams in very different places. The Pirates have surged of late and now find themselves just two and a half games back in the NL Central, while the Giants continue to struggle. If before the season I had told you that the Giants would be 31.5 games behind the Dodgers in late July, you probably would’ve made a mental note to stop reading my articles. It would’ve seemed insane, but here we are.

As for that fantastic matchup on the mound, it features two pitchers who have missed time this season, but for VERY different reasons. Jameson Taillon’s battle with cancer was incredibly scary, and it’s remarkable to see him pitching again this season at all, let alone pitching well. In 73 innings he’s posted a 3.08 ERA/3.17 FIP and looks to be on his way to fulfilling the front line starter potential that was put on him as a prospect.

Madison Bumgarner has only thrown 40 1/3 innings this season due to his dirt bike accident in April. While he has pitched well, much like his team the heights of the past few years have thus far eluded him. His 3.57 ERA and 3.79 FIP represent career highs and his 23.2 percent strikeout rate is the lowest he’s posted since 2012. Still, it will take more than 40 13 subpar innings in an injury-interrupted season to change expectations for Bumgarner. He can give Giants’ fans a rare moment of joy in a lost season on Tuesday, but Taillon is a worthy adversary. This should be an outstanding matchup.


Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.