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Launch Angles — July 28, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-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

Kendrys Morales keeps the Blue Jays alive — +.435 WPA

For the second straight day, the Blue Jays came from behind late, and are featured in this part of the recap. Yesterday’s recap involved a Kendrys Morales home run as well, though it was the homer that followed the game-tying home run; this time, it’s Morales who tied the game, and was followed an inning later by Steve Pearce, who hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 10th.

In a vacuum, there wasn’t a lot wrong with this pitch from Blake Treinen; sinkers low in the zone have a lot going for them, and it looks pretty impressive that Morales was able to get underneath it and send it out to center. But this was the fourth straight sinker Treinen threw, and the first pitch of the plate appearance was a sinker just inches away from this one that Morales did indeed whiff on. The sinker is Treinen’s main pitch — he’s thrown it more than half the time this season — but mixing in a slider or changeup could’ve gone a long way.

The trade deadline is weird for several reasons. Oakland is still barely removed from a couple trades, including the one that sent the better parts of their bullpen, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, to the Nationals. You obviously can’t say with certainty that either of those pitchers would’ve done a better job than Treinen in the 9th (or than Liam Hendricks in the 10th, when three walks and the aforementioned walk-off grand slam made this game seem a lot less close than it was). But there is still something very odd about watching a team make it’s major-league roster worse, and feeling the effects of that change less than a week later.

For the Jays, the weird part is the uncertainty surrounding the rest of this season. A winning streak of five or six games can be enough to convince a team on the bubble (like the Jays) to go for it, or at least not sell off pieces; the Blue Jays, after getting swept by the Indians last week in three games, completed a four-game sweep of the A’s with this win. Any of the heroes of this game could be on the team next week, or they could be sent away for a motley collection of 18- and 21-year-olds. July is weird.

Yesterday’s best game score

Zack Godley — 77

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.

The Diamondbacks rotation has been one of the biggest drivers of their surprising success this season — with 12.3 fWAR, they trail on the Dodgers in MLB — and Godley has in turn been a big part of that. He was in fine form last night, going seven innings and striking out seven Cardinals while walking just two, allowing four hits, and keeping St. Louis off the scoreboard entirely.

As the above gifs demonstrate, Godley’s best weapon on the night was his vicious curveball, which he threw 38 times on the night and with which he garnered ten of his thirteen whiffs. His other most-used pitch was his sinker, and while it didn’t get any whiffs, it frequently went for a first-pitch called strike or a foul, and in conjunction with the curveball, allowed Godley to get ahead in counts while still keeping hitters off-balance and preventing any serious damage on balls in play.

On the season, the Arizona righty’s ERA has fallen to a sterling 3.06, with a 3.03 FIP and 2.84 DRA to match. This is his first season of success at the major-league level, and with 28 innings in the minors to start the year before his 88 innings in the majors, he’s rapidly approaching his past innings totals, so it’s not clear to what extent the DBacks will be able to rely on Godley in October. But with lots of impressive starting pitching depth, his availability in the postseason might actually be less important than the fact that he’s giving them great innings in July.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

José Abreu — 454 feet

I go on a lot in this space about how milestones in the outfield — upper-decks, statues, natural formations, whatever — are good for home runs, since they provide some context for a deep blast, and allow you to appreciate a huge home run in the moment, not just with the help of Statcast data. But there’s something to be said for a nice, simple homer that lands fifteen or twenty rows back. On the one hand, if the bleachers are the only point of reference, really long home runs can be hard to distinguish from the merely long home runs; on the other hand, a baseball landing two-thirds of the way into a section that starts more than 400 feet from home plate is awesome. This is a nice-looking home run, is what I’m trying to say.

Abreu got a first-pitch curveball from Jon Lester and wasn’t fooled, holding back on it long enough to send it into orbit. The Cubs lefty had struck out the North Side-slugger in the first inning with a curveball in nearly the exact same place:

Brooks Baseball

Abreu may have fallen from the lofty heights of his rookie season, but he’s still a very formidable hitter, and 2017 has seem him rebound somewhat. His power numbers are the highest they’ve been since that 2014 season, and his 130 wRC+ is also the best of the last three years. This was one of two home runs he hit last night, bringing his total to 18 on the year. Jon Heyman reported recently that the White Sox weren’t planning on trading Abreu, thanks to the limited market for first basemen at this deadline. But with Abreu under contract for two more years, and a promising crop of youngsters in the newly stocked White Sox farm system, it’s not impossible to imagine that he’ll be a part of their next competitive team.

SABRy tidbits

  • Several teams are still undecided (at least publicly) on their direction at the trade deadline, the Orioles chief among them. At Camden Chat, George Battersby breaks down the timeline of comments and reports out of Baltimore, and tries to explain the front office’s probable thinking.
  • Ever since the start of the one-game Wild Card playoff, some folks have poo-pooed the meaning of reaching it, given the possibility of an abrupt exit it carries. But Adam Peterson of Purple Row is here to convince you that the Wild Card game matters plenty, especially to a fanbase as starved for success as the Rockies, and that it’s worth trading away some prospects to push for it. (He’s totally right, too!)

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Alex Wood (3.39 projected ERA) vs. Matt Moore (4.16 projected ERA)

If you focus on the names, this might not look like one of hte lopsided matchups that seem to appear so frequently in this space, and indeed, even the projections think this should be fairly well-matched. But the projections focus a lot on track record, and if we look at the more recent performance of both these pitchers, this has the potential to be a bloodbath. Wood is coming off a rough start (nine runs in 4 23 innings) against the Angels, but his season is still fairly described as a breakout, what with the 2.17 ERA, 2.44 FIP, and 2.75 DRA. He’s been outstanding, and while he’s well beyond the maximum innings he’d thrown in any season prior to this one, Wood could stop pitching today and still have been a huge and happy surprise for the Dodgers.

You could imagine a similar narrative developing around Matt Moore, had a few things gone differently. But surgeries and general ineffectiveness have not only kept him from making the jump to excellence, but pushed him into a disappointing 2017 with the Giants. His ERA of 5.82 is worse than his FIP of 4.66, but his DRA of 7.51 is downright horrific, suggesting that bad luck probably hasn’t been his problem. There’s still potential here, which is why the projections are optimistic, but Moore isn’t the real attraction of this matchup.