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Launch angles — July 29, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Houston Astros v Detroit Tigers
The default mood of the Tigers bullpen.
Photo by Duane Burleson/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

Bruce Rondon blows it for the Tigers — +.435 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Oh, Tigers bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez may be departed — and, uh, stealing tapestries — but Detroit still can’t hold a lead. Even before Friday, the team’s relievers had MLB’s worst ERA (5.28), its worst FIP (5.07), and its third-worst WPA (-3.55). While the Tigers have some star players, the struggles of the relief corps (and the high-priced veterans playing below replacement level) have sunk their season.

On Friday, one such veteran actually had himself a pretty good outing. Jordan Zimmermann was in control against a historically great Astros offense, allowing just three runs through seven innings. Rondon matched that total within the first three batters — he gave up singles to Derek Fisher and Jose Altuve, then left a 1-1 slider out over the plate to Josh Reddick:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Reddick — who followed up this dinger with a pretty slick bat flip — now has 10 home runs on the year. He’s the 11th Houston hitter to reach double-digit dingers, which ties an MLB record. As the 68-34 Astros surge toward the No. 1 seed in the American League, the 45-56 Tigers plummet to fourth in the AL Central, thanks in large part to relievers like Rondon.

Yesterday’s best game score

Masahiro Tanaka — 89

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.

In late May, Masahiro Tanaka was sitting on a 6.56 ERA in nine starts. My colleague Steven Martano speculated that he might not opt out of his contract after the year. Recently, though, Tanaka has thrown way more breaking balls than ever before, and the slider/curve mix has paid off — in the 12 games since then, he has a 4.16 ERA, with 93 strikeouts and 12 walks (and 14 homers, to be fair) in 75 23 innings.

Yesterday’s contest showed the potential of that approach. Against the Rays, 47 of Tanaka’s 109 pitches were sliders or curveballs, and hitters had no hope against them. Those breaking balls picked up 34 strikes and 10 whiffs, helping Tanaka twirl an eight-inning, one-run, no-walk, 14-strikeout gem. Still think he’s going to leave $23 million on the table?

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Clint Frazier — 455 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Tanaka’s opponent was Austin Pruitt, a 27-year-old rookie who came into this game with a 6.25 ERA in 31 23 innings. (His peripherals were better, but, c’mon.) Maybe Pruitt gave into the pressure, because this start wasn’t pretty — the Yankees tagged him for three home runs, all of them deep. Brett Gardner gave the Yankees a prompt 1-0 lead with this 398-foot blast:

GIF via MLB.com

Aaron Judge followed up in the fourth inning with a 397-footer of his own:

GIF via MLB.com

And, of course, Frazier took Pruitt deep — much deeper — in the fifth to put the game out of reach. It was the rookie’s fourth long ball of the season; he’s now slugging .564 with a 124 wRC+ in 81 trips to the dish. But New York still plans to send him down when Aaron Hicks is healthy. Why? Let’s head over to the next section to find out!

SABRy tidbits

  • Frazier is a better hitter than Jacoby Ellsbury, by far. At this point in Ellsbury’s career, Frazier’s probably not that much worse in the field, assuming he’s not better. Yet the Yankees insist on starting their $153 million veteran, promising to demote the Red Thunder when Hicks returns. Pinstripe Alley’s Kenny Crocker says (correctly) that’s a stupid move.
  • For some reason, Deadspin ranked baseball plays from most to least exciting. You can quibble with some of their decisions — personally, I think it’d be a thrill to get blown up by Randy Johnson — but the list is nevertheless pretty interesting.
  • As fans of any other AL East team know, the Red Sox are really damn patient. No team in baseball has swung less often than Boston, which all of a sudden has an aggressive hitter on its hands — new third baseman Eduardo Nunez. Over the Monster’s Matt Collins has more on this unlikely marriage.
  • You won’t be surprised to hear that Chris Sale leads the majors in FIP. But you might not expect to see the name behind him — James Paxton, who’s been phenomenal for the Mariners. Lookout Landing’s Grant Bronsdon breaks down how the southpaw has made the leap.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Zack Greinke (3.63 projected ERA) vs. Mike Leake (4.24 projected ERA)

This isn’t something you see too often:

Image via FanGraphs. Duh.

Tomorrow’s Diamondbacks-Cardinals game is essentially a wash, according to FanGraphs’ win probability. That seems a little odd at first, considering the respective quality of the two starters. Greinke’s tallied a 2.92 ERA and 3.30 FIP this season, while Leake’s at 3.20 and 3.87, respectively. Why would the Cardinals have such a relative edge?

Well, the projections take into account team quality, too. For the rest of the season — despite their disparate records to this point — FanGraphs projects a .528 winning percentage for St. Louis and a .526 winning percentage for Arizona. So while the Snakes’ pitcher is clearly superior, the overall quality of the Redbirds makes this an even match.


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.