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Launch angles — July 5, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/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

Franklin Barreto launches a towering walk-off home run — +.425 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

Until Franklin Barreto is able to distinguish himself as a player, he will be best known as the main prospect the A’s received in the ill-fated Josh Donaldson trade. His first nine big league games since being called up haven’t been great, but it’s just nine games, no big deal.

Playing shortstop and batting eighth against the White Sox on Tuesday, Barreto entered the ninth inning having gone one for three with a triple. He stepped into the box against reliever Tommy Kahnle with one out, no one on base, and the game tied at six. At that point he’s probably looking to just get on base in whatever way he can. Barreto has some pop, but it’s not his carrying tool by any means.

Barreto took a called strike to begin the at-bat, and then looked at a slider and a changeup well off the plate. After Barreto showed he wouldn’t chase low and away, Kahnle threw three straight 97 mile per hour four-seam fastballs, inducing a swinging strike and two foul balls. On the seventh pitch, Barreto refused to chase another changeup that was well below the zone. The count was now full and Kahnle went back to another 97 mile per hour four-seamer on the inner third of the plate. This time Barreto was prepared and able to lift a fly ball just past the left field wall.

via MLB Gameday

It was an impressive eight-pitch at bat in which the rookie shortstop displayed outstanding discipline and pitch recognition. He didn’t chase anything unhittable and waited for a fastball he could drive. Here’s a pie to the face, Franklin Barreto. You earned it.

Gif via MLB.com

Yesterday’s best game score

Clayton Kershaw — 85

Gif via MLB.com

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.

Dave Roberts has been in the unenviable position of having to pull a pitcher mid no-hitter twice in his short managerial career, but he’s never had to do it with Clayton Kershaw. It’s one thing to pull Ross Stripling — a rookie not far removed from Tommy John surgery — or Rich Hill and his blister ridden fingers; but telling the best pitcher on the planet that his day is done would be tough. Kershaw isn’t exactly known for having an easy going demeanor on his start days.

Through 6 1/3 innings on Tuesday night, Kershaw had not allowed a hit against the Diamondbacks. He had inexplicably walked Chris Iannetta twice, but that was the extent of the damage. Kershaw’s slider looked sharp and he was going to the curveball early and often, but his pitch count had ballooned to an untenable number — 99. To expect Kershaw to finish the rest of the game or the Dodgers to allow him to try was unrealistic. Roberts probably breathed a conflicted sigh of relief when the next at-bat saw Chris Owings poke a 46 mile per hour dribbler to second to collect the Diamondbacks’ first hit. Kershaw allowed one more hit to the aforementioned Iannetta, but would escape the seventh without allowing a run.

Kershaw needed 117 pitches for his seven scoreless frames. He allowed two walks — both to Iannetta somehow — two hits, and struck out 11. Kershaw’s slider has been the subject of much discussion this year as it seems to have gained a little velocity and lost some effectiveness. While the velocity was still higher than it has been in years past — averaging 88.7 miles per hour on the night — Kershaw’s slider generated 12 of his 19 total whiffs, which is a great sign for the pitch.

When he wasn’t getting swinging strikes Kershaw was generating weak contact. Only two batted balls against him were hit harder than 85 miles per hour and neither of those were on the two singles he allowed. In related news, this was Kershaw’s third straight game without allowing a home run.

Kershaw’s batted ball exit velocities
Chart via Baseball Savant

It seems like every year there’s a stretch where people begin to question whether Kershaw is indeed still the best pitcher in baseball. This year that period of questioning seems to be lasting a little longer than usual. While one of these days he might actually lose the throne, I’ll leave it to True Blue LA’s Eric Stephen to explain why it’s going to take more than one rough patch for that to happen.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Albert Pujols — 459 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Entering play on Tuesday Albert Pujols had been worth -1.1 fWAR and -1.2 bWAR on the season. He had hit 11 home runs, which is nice on its own, but less so when paired with a 73 wRC+ and a .277 wOBA. While Pujols has a veteran locker room presence that almost certainly has value, power is pretty much the only tool he brings to the table on the field anymore. He’s under contract for four more seasons and even though the Angels publicly dismiss the negative analytics, at this rate it’s hard to envision Pujols getting meaningful at-bats in 2021.

The previous paragraph was brought to you by the harsh reality of aging. “Aging! You have no choice in the matter.”

Despite his sharp overall decline as a player, Pujols can still crush dingers on occasion. He surpassed the 600 career home run mark earlier this season and on Tuesday mashed a prodigious 459 foot tater. The last home run of his to break the 450 foot mark was on May 30th, 2015; Pujols hadn’t hit a ball this far in quite a while. The fans sitting high above the bullpens surely had to have thought their bast chance at catching a home run would be off the bat of Miguel Sano; but Pujols showed that if he can barrel one up, he still has occasional light tower power.

Twins reliever Taylor Rogers got the honor of serving up this moonshot after battling back from 3-0 to make the count full. Pujols then fouled off two meaty, belt-high curveballs. Rogers came back with a two-seam fastball but it was right down the middle and that was that. It’s nice to see that Pujols can still destroy a baseball every now and then.

Chart via Baseball Savant

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Zack Godley (3.96 projected ERA) vs. Alex Wood (3.31 projected ERA)

Entering this showdown at Dodger Stadium the Diamondbacks trail the Dodgers by 3.5 games after running into the Clayton Kershaw buzzsaw on Tuesday. Zack Godley will take the bump for Arizona to try and trim that deficit. He has been a huge part of a tremendous Diamondbacks starting staff that leads the majors with 10.3 fWAR. In 64 innings, Godley has a 2.67 ERA, a 3.19 FIP, and an above league average 15.8 percent strikeout-to-walk ratio. As my colleague Devan Fink detailed, Godley has found success with an increased reliance on his sinker and curveball. He’s inducing more ground balls and swinging strikes, which is a fantastic recipe for success.

The Diamondbacks starters have been impressive, but the Dodgers are right there with them, coming in third on the league wide leaderboard with a cumulative 9.6 fWAR. A huge part of that has been Alex Wood and his 1.98 ERA/2.11 FIP. Despite starting 2017 in the bullpen, Wood is currently tied with Zack Greinke in fWAR as the seventh most valuable starting pitcher in baseball this season. As he’s not yet qualified on MLB leaderboards as you have to drop the minimum innings pitched to 70 for Wood to show up, but doing so puts him alongside the best of the best and highlights why his exclusion from the All-Star team seems absurd.

We’ve got two outstanding young pitchers facing off in a tight division race. You know what to do.*

*Watch — by that I mean you should watch. Just so we’re clear.


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