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Launch angles — July 26, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/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

Ben Gamel strolls home and Guillermo Heredia goes first to third on a wild pitch — +.431 WPA

Gif via

It was the 13th inning — past midnight in Seattle — when Mariners catcher Mike Zunino stepped up to the plate with two outs and runners on the corners against Red Sox hurler Doug Fister. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Fister threw a two-seam fastball into the dirt that his catcher Sandy Leon couldn’t corral. The ball went all the way to the backstop and Ben Gamel cruised home from third base to tie the game at five.

Gamel scored the tying run, which is great and all, but Guillermo Heredia going from first to third to set up the game winning run is the impressive part of this play. He made it to second base, slowed ever so slightly to locate Leon and the ball, saw that they were still at the rear of the backstop, and decided to take the extra base. I didn’t listen to the various play-by-play calls, but I’m willing to bet most, if not all of them, referred to Heredia’s base running as “heads up.” Cliché, but the correct description.

Fister would ultimately walk Zunino on four pitches and Jean Segura would follow with a seeing-eye single up the middle to score Heredia from third and win the game for the Mariners. With the victory Seattle reaches the .500 mark at 51-51, and remains just 2.5 games back of a wild card spot.

Yesterday’s best game score

Charlie Morton — 84

Gif via

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.

In a matchup of the best team in the American League and the worst team in baseball, the predictable happened. Astros starter Charlie Morton is not an ace, but he’s having a good year and proved more than capable of handling the Phillies with ease. The seven scoreless inning he threw brought both his ERA and FIP below four on the season. They now sit at 3.83 and 3.95, respectively.

Morton allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out nine Philadelphia batters. He induced 14 swinging strikes and seven ground outs by changing his pitch mix somewhat and relying on his curveball more than usual. According to Pitch Info, Morton’s approach is typically 47.9 percent sinker, 27.2 percent curveball, 11.5 percent cutter, 7.3 percent four-seam fastball, and 6.2 percent splitter. On Tuesday against the Phillies the cutter and splitter were used as they usually are, but Morton increased his curveball and four-seam usage to 39.0 and 25.7 percent while decreasing his sinker usage to 37.1 percent.

Maybe it was his feel for the pitches on this particular day or perhaps it was a Phillies-specific plan of attack, but no matter what the cause, it worked. Morton pounded the bottom half of the zone with his curve, kept his four-seam fastball in the top half and above, and used the sinker — normally his most relied upon offering — to pepper the zone with strikes.

Note: Sinkers are labeled as two-seam fastballs in this gif.
Zone Charts via Baseball Savant

We’ll see if this altered pitch mix was a only one time occurrence based on his opponent, but Morton was sharp against the Phillies and continues to put together an excellent season.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Taijuan Walker — 455 feet

Gif via

For the third time this season a pitcher has claimed victory in the biggest home run category. On opening night Madison Bumgarner hit a 422 foot home run against Diamondbacks reliever Andrew Chafin in Arizona, and earlier this month Jon Gray crushed a 467 foot dinger at Coors Field off of Reds starter Scott Feldman. The NL West is full of pitchers who rake.

Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz showed Taijuan Walker absolutely no respect in this at-bat. He got two straight called strikes on fastballs to jump out in front of Walker 0-2. At this point, Foltynewicz probably relaxed and thought he’d blow another one right by Walker for an easy strikeout. The third pitch of the at-bat was a 95 mile per hour two-seam that was right down the middle, but Walker was ready for it as he crushed the ball 455 feet with an exit velocity of 110 miles per hour.

Zone via MLB Gameday

I’m struck by two things about Walker’s swing on this home run (scroll up and look at the gif again); his leg kick looks half-hearted and kind of awkward but his follow through and rotation look just like any other slugger. I’m most certainly not a qualified expert on swing mechanics, but man, that looks like a textbook finish. Obviously any ball hit 455 feet will have a good swing behind it, but I wasn’t expecting such aesthetically pleasing contact and extension from a pitcher.

Personally, I’ve never fully committed to a side in the DH vs. pitchers hitting debate, and one at-bat won’t sway me either way. But man, it sure is fun to see a pitcher mash a gigantic tater.

SABRy tidbits

  • Before his injury, Mitch Haniger was showing the potential to become a breakout star for the Mariners. Since his return though, things have gone downhill. Over at Lookout Landing, Jake Mailhot examines what has caused Haniger’s slump.
  • The Royals’ trade with the Padres on Monday officially signaled that they were keeping the band together for one more run at glory. Whether that’s a good decision or not is up for debate, but according to Josh Duggan of Royals Review, the pitchers ending up in Kansas City are a great fit.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Chris Sale (2.88 projected ERA) vs. Andrew Moore (5.19 projected ERA)

Oh boy. Another lopsided best pitching matchup thanks to the American League’s overwhelming Cy Young favorite. I don’t have to sell you on Chris Sale. He’s great, having his most dominant year to date, and you should watch him every chance you get because reveling in excellence is never a bad idea.

Sale reached 200 strikeouts in his last start — faster than any other American League pitcher in history — and has a great shot at 300 and the all-time Red Sox single season record of 313, set by Pedro Martinez. Probably best to not try and discuss the successes with Sale though, he’s not interested.

Andrew Moore will be making his sixth start of the season for the Mariners. He owns a 5.70 ERA and a 6.58 FIP, which seems bad until you see that his 8.49 DRA and 10.5 percent strikeout rate paint an even worse picture. Here’s the good news: he’s a 23 year old rookie who placed fifth on the Mariners prospect lists at both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus last offseason. Moore’s first taste of big league action has not gone well, but obviously we need to withhold judgment for a while on what kind of a pitcher he will ultimately become.

That said, have fun against Chris Sale!

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