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Launch angles — July 30, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Oakland Athletics Kyle Terada-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

Rajai Davis gives the Athletics a walk-off of their own — +.679 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

The A’s have been on the receiving end of some brutal comebacks this year — most recently, their back-to-back humiliations at the hands of the Blue Jays on Wednesday and Thursday. They’ve been the victim of the biggest play of the day six times this season, a mark topped by just three other teams (the Angels, Phillies, and Tigers each have seven).

But on Saturday, Oakland got some revenge. Despite a shaky start from Chris Smith that put them in a 4-2 hole, they wouldn’t be denied the victory. As the bullpen pitched four scoreless innings, the team’s sluggers chipped away at the deficit. In the eighth inning, Matt Chapman chased Buddy Boshers from the game with a solo shot. Taylor Rogers came on to close things out, and after issuing a seven-pitch walk to Adam Rosales, he left a fastball in just about the dead center of the plate:

Image via Brooks Baseball

It’s been that sort of year for the Athletics — they’ve now had the biggest play of the day seven times, behind only the Dodgers (nine). So while the downs earlier in the week might have hurt, the ups have come, too, and they’re pretty sweet. A walk-off is always a big play, whether you’re giving it or receiving it.

Yesterday’s best game score

TIE: German Marquez/Kevin Gausman — 80

GIF via MLB.com
Believe me, if MLB.com had an ‘Eight strikeouts in eight seconds’ video, I’d GIF it up.
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.

Each of these starters has had a hot streak recently; let’s start with Marquez. Over his first 12 starts of the year, he’d struck out 19.9 percent of opponents and walked 8.2 percent. In his last five outings, he’s posted a 29.8 percent strikeout rate and 5.3 percent walk rate. That’s helped him lower his ERA from 4.38 in the first stretch to 3.51 in the second.

In this game against MLB’s third-best offense, Marquez succeeded the same way he’s been succeeding. Over these last few starts, he’s leaned on his breaking balls — a curveball and an occasional slider — much more often than before. Against the Nationals, 29 of his 99 pitches were breaking balls, which lines up with his clip from the previous month. Those accounted for eight of his 16 whiffs, which helped him pile up 10 strikeouts in just seven innings.

Gausman’s turnaround has been even more stark. Through 14 starts, he had a horrendous 6.49 ERA, with a 14.2 percent strikeout rate and 10.2 percent walk rate. After that — as my colleague Joe Clarkin noted earlier this monthGausman changed up his pitch mix. With a renewed emphasis on his split-change, he’s given out walks at an 8.3 percent clip, while racking up strikeouts 30.1 percent of the time.

In this game, Gausman went all-in with his splitter, throwing it for 40 of his 118 pitches. The Rangers were hopeless against it, whiffing eight times and taking it for a strike 28 times overall. With that weapon to support his 96-mph fastball, Gausman came one out short of his first career shutout.

Neither Marquez nor Gausman is an ace — yet. But each entered 2017 with ace-like potential; Gausman had a 3.61 ERA in 179 23 innings last season, while Marquez dominated the minors and was a top 100 prospect on several lists. With more starts like these, and more hot streaks like their current ones, they may yet reach ace-dom.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

J.D. Martinez — 466 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Gotta feel for Trey Mancini, man. In support of Gausman’s aforementioned gem, he walloped a 460-foot tater off Austin Bibens-Dirkx; that checked in as the 44th-longest home run of the year. But Martinez takes the cake today, because of those extra six feet. Take it from Nigel Powers, Trey: It’s not size that matters — it’s how (or when) you use it.

If I told you Martinez has six hits in 29 at-bats with the Diamondbacks, you might not think he’s doing too well. Indeed, a .208 batting average and .258 on-base percentage aren’t the hallmarks of a good hitter. But five of those six hits have left the yard, including this blast on an 0-1 pitch that was pretty damn low:

Image via Brooks Baseball

After golfing that slider to deep left-center, Martinez has a .724 slugging percentage in the desert. The D-backs brought him in because he hits dingers, and he’s done nothing but that (like, seriously, he’s done nothing else).

SABRy tidbits

  • As an Orioles fan, I’ll forever be grateful for the Erik Bedard trade, which brought Adam Jones and Chris Tillman to Baltimore. But that deal — which happened nearly 10 years ago — wasn’t the first time the Mariners shipped off a promising young pitcher/position player combo. Ten years before that, as Grant Brisbee recalls, we saw one of the worst swaps in baseball history.
  • Adrian Beltre now has 2,999 MLB hits, to go along with 80+ WAR in any version of the metric and an ironclad Hall of Fame case. But is that really why we love him? Or is it the batshit things he does on the field — the fake catches, the backward helmet, the freakouts when people touch his head? Lone Star Ball’s ghostofErikThompson knows what we’ll remember him for.
  • The Yankees have a ton of good/great outfielders — Aarons Judge and Hicks, Clint Frazier, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner are all at various stages of competence and health — and, obviously, only three spots in which to play them. But as Pinstripe Alley’s Miles Park explains, that doesn’t mean they can’t keep them all on the roster.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Lance McCullers (3.38 projected ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (3.98 projected ERA)

On July 2, Verlander had what was, by xFIP, the worst start of his 13-year career, allowing seven runs in just 3 13 innings against the Indians. Since then, though, he’s looked much better — his other four July starts have seen him post a 2.77 ERA and 3.65 FIP. He’ll try to close out the month on a good note, in what could very well be his last start in Detroit (but actually probably won’t be).

Where Verlander is something of a has-been, McCullers is turning into an ace right now. Thanks to a super-low strand rate, his ERA is an uninspiring 3.67, but his 2.85 FIP is better than the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, and Zack Greinke. He’ll look to leave some more runners on base against the Tigers, who have been hitting pretty well since the All-Star Break. While this ranks as the best matchup of the day, it could get high-scoring in a hurry.


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.