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Launch angles — July 31, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels 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

Steve Pearce hits (another!) walk-off grand slam — +.794 WPA

I think you can best enjoy this WPA graph if you cover it with your hand, then slowly move it to the right, so that you see the game as it progressed. Do that now. I’m the author of this article, you have to do what I say.

I mean, my goodness. When the Angels tacked on an insurance run in the top of the 9th to make the score 10–4, the Blue Jays’ had a 0.3 percent shot at victory. Pearce’s home run was the most important play in that comeback by a mile — the next-most impactful Blue Jays hit in the 9th was Russell Martin’s run-scoring single, adding 0.085 in win probability — because until he went deep, the Jays remained severe underdogs. When you’re down by six, a few baserunners and even a few runs don’t really move the needle much. It takes a lot to shift the balance, and Pearce provided that in a single swing.

Bud Norris is actually in the midst of a pretty decent season in relief, but you wouldn’t know it from this outing. To be fair, he wasn’t responsible for the whole Angels meltdown — Brooks Pounders started the inning, allowing a walk, dinger, and ground rule double before Norris came on — but he’s the one who gave up the big hit. He threw Pearce two cutters below the zone, both of which the Blue Jays righty laid off of. With the bases loaded and a 2–0 count, Pearce probably wasn’t sitting on a fastball per se, but he had to be anticipating it somewhat, and when it came, he hit it a mile. He’s still not having a great year on the whole — a wRC+ of 105 is nothing special for a left fielder — but Pearce has to feel pretty good about hitting two walk-off grand slams in just four days.

Yesterday’s best game score

Luis Castillo — 83

You might not know Luis Castillo, and that’s okay; there hasn’t been much reason to know him. But if you do recognize his name, it’s from all the trades. After being signed by the Giants, he was sent to the Marlins in the Casey McGehee swap, then sent to the Padres in the Andrew Cashner/Colin Rea start, then sent back to the Marlins when Rea got injured and there was that whole fiasco about the Padres’ hidden medical records, then finally sent to the Reds in the Dan Straily deal. Really, his globetrotting (or countrytrotting) was one of the more interesting things about him at the start of this season; he’d barely touched AA, and seemed unlikely to make the majors this season. Instead, after 80 innings with the Reds’ AA affiliate, he bypassed AAA entirely, and is now 48 innings into his major league career.

And last night’s start was the best of that brief career by far: eight innings, with six strikeouts, three hits, one walk, and one run. Castillo cruised through his old team (the Marlins; you really have to be specific with him) thanks mostly to his high-octane heater and deceptive changeup. His fastball touched 100 a few times, and his slowest of the night was still a zippy 97mph, nicely setting up his high-80s changeup. Castillo was comfortable throwing the cambio to both lefties and righties, and the Miami hitters whiffed on a third of their swings against the pitch.

The 24-year-old righty is not a huge strikeout artist, despite what his 9.6 K/9 in the big leagues may suggest — across each minor league level, Castillo had an 8.3 K/9 — so this is likely what a successful start is going to look like for him. The man he was traded for, Dan Straily, was starting for the Marlins, and Castillo simply outpitched him. Straily’s not having a bad season, so maybe the Marlins would make the trade again, but I have to imagine that Castillo’s days of franchise-hopping are over for the time being.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Marcell Ozuna — 465 feet

This is a long home run, slotting in as the 23rd-longest of the season and Ozuna’s second in the top-25. Ozuna has always had good pop, particularly for an outfielder with some defensive chops — he hit 23 home runs in both 2014 and 2016 — but he’s stepped it up this season, as this was dinger number 24, setting a new season high for himself with a good third of the year still remaining.

This was a slider from Raisel Iglesias that hung up in the middle of the zone and that Ozuna turned on. I’m not sure it was a mistake, though; the previous pitch was also a slider, and thrown to almost the exact same location, where Ozuna whiffed on it:

Maybe Iglesias thought he had found Ozuna’s Achilles heel, in the form of sliders right down the heart of the plate. Maybe he outfoxed himself, and threw the pitch that was so predictable it went all the way back to unpredictable. Or maybe he just hung a slider twice in a row, and only got lucky once. Whatever the case, Ozuna is not the sort of hitter with an easily defined weak spot, nor the sort of hitter you can make repeated mistakes to.

There are plenty of things to dislike about Marlins Park, but here’s another one: there’s no way for a ball to fully leave the stadium. I’m a Red Sox fan by birth, and one of my favorite things about Fenway is the relative frequency with which balls fly over the Green Monster completely, landing on Landsdowne Street. You can say the same about AT&T Park and the splash hits to right field, or any number of stadiums. It might not be plausible everywhere, but even if a home run needs a few friendly bounces to escape, the option should always exist. It doesn’t in Miami, where everything is walled in and enclosed. A home run as deep and majestic as Ozuna’s should have at least a shot at freedom. Now, if they made those barriers out of easily broken glass, so that home runs like this could bust through them with ease, we might be getting somewhere.

SABRy tidbits

  • It’s the anniversary of the Heathcliff Slocum trade, a famously lopsided deal between the Mariners and Red Sox that ended up being the Jason Varitek/Derek Lowe trade, though nobody knew that at the time. Grant Brisbee has a nice recap of what went down, with some context that I didn’t know and would probably continue to miss if I just kept this trade in the part of my brain reserved for making Mariners fans feel bad.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Michael Fulmer (3.91 projected ERA) vs. Luis Severino (3.82 projected ERA)

This is a fun matchup between two evenly matched, very good, and somewhat similar young pitchers. Severino has had the slightly better 2017 (3.03 ERA/2.94 FIP/3.9 fWAR, versus 3.35 ERA/3.34 FIP/3.3 fWAR for Fulmer) and is a year younger (23 versus 24), while Fulmer has the track record of success after his Rookie of the Year campaign last season. Both have high-90s velocity on their respective fastballs (though Fulmer has a sinker too), with changeups and curveballs in the high 80s. And both are going to be mainstays of their respective teams for a long while.

Tomorrow’s the trade deadline, if you haven’t heard, and so the actual games will probably be pretty low on your list of priorities. This game starts at 7:05pm, though, so you could pick a worse way to recover and process whatever happens before 4:00pm today than by plonking down and watching this game. Fulmer and Severino are great, and are part of the next generation of excellent young pitchers. Get to know them!