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Launch angles — July 6, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-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

Salvador Pérez gives the Royals the lead in extras — +.424 WPA

This was the last game still going on Wednesday night, so it felt like a lot of eyes were on Sal Pérez when he stepped to the plate in the top of the 10th. For the first year in a while, the Royals catcher has been an above-average offensive threat, so there was a real sense that the game might end in a hurry after he stepped to the plate. On the other hand, James Pazos and the Mariners already had one out, and with a runner on first, a double play would’ve sent the game to the bottom of the 10th with the tie intact. Pérez has been among the twenty worst at avoiding double plays, per FanGraphs’ wGDP metric, so there was also a real path to success for the Mariners to slip into. But we know now, of course, that they took the former path, with Pérez going deep and the Royals winning 9–6.

Pazos’s first pitch to Pérez was a sinker, outside and off the plate, that the Royals catcher swung at and missed. A totally viable strategy against Pérez is to just throw him junk; as his 3.7 percent walk rate (fifth-lowest in the league) and 46.9 percent swing rate at pitches out of the zone (highest in the league) show, he’s not exactly patient, and can be induced into whiffs or ugly contact if a pitcher is careful. But Pazos’s second pitch to Pérez was over the outside half of the plate, and Pérez can succeed while being so aggressive because he does a lot of damage on pitches that are inside almost any portion of the strike zone. In many ways, this wasn’t a terrible pitch, but that didn’t stop Salvy from sending it over the right field wall and putting the Royals on the path to victory.

With the win, the Royals moved to 44–40, just a half-game back of Cleveland for the lead in the AL Central and in a three-way tie for the second Wild Card spot. Their shot at making the offseason has risen above 20 percent, according to FanGraphs’ projections, and whether they end up in the playoffs or not, it looks near-certain to be another very fun summer in KC.

Yesterday’s best game score

Alex Wood — 82

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.

Alex Wood is having himself a season. Last night’s performance saw him go seven scoreless, allowing just three hits and walking two batters while striking out ten. The acceptable margin of error was nonexistent, as the Dodgers would score just a single run over the course of the game, but Wood was up to the task.

There were a lot of impressive things about his performance last night, but I think Wood’s command is particularly worth highlighting. His strikeout of Jake Lamb in the above GIF was the product of a perfectly placed changeup, right on Grandal’s glove, both tantalizing to a hitter and near-impossible to hit, and reasonably likely to be called a strike even if Lamb had somehow managed to resist. On the night, Wood threw strikes on an enormous 71 percent of his pitches. When a pitcher can both pound the zone and allow only three hits, it’s a good sign. While the excellent Dodgers defense surely had something to do with that, Wood also earned much of the credit, thanks to the 17 whiffs he induced. The result was a night that was not just dominant, but efficient: when the Dodgers lefty exited after seven innings, he had thrown just 84 pitches.

Over his past four starts, Wood has seemingly taken his season to another level, throwing 27 innings and allowing just three runs, with five walks and 30 strikeouts. There are still concerns about his durability, and it seems nearly certain that he won’t be able to keep this up for a full season, but a) it was just 2015 when he threw 190 innings, and the season before that when he threw 172, and b) he doesn’t need to be this good or this consistent to be a huge boon to Los Angeles. Entering the season, Wood was somewhere outside of the top-five on the Dodgers’ SP depth chart; everything he’s done in the last few months is a pleasant surprise.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Jon Gray — 467 feet

Oh hell yeah. Oh helllllllll yeah. That is Jon Gray, pitcher, crushing a baseball 467 feet, and doing so with extreme style. There are so many things to love about this.

  • Gray is a pitcher. Reasonable people can disagree about whether pitchers hitting is a worthwhile thing or not, but that conversation usually revolves around pitchers who don’t do a good job at the plate. We can all agree that pitchers who mash taters are cool as heck.
  • This ball went a very long way. This was not a wall-scraping accident of a home run, but a thunderous blast to center. With the first home run of his career, Gray took possession of 14th on the list of longest home runs this season.
  • He did the Sammy Sosa bunny hop on the way out of the box:
  • Gray put fear into Scott Feldman’s heart, and saw four curveballs in his next plate appearance. He did strike out, but at least he got treated like a real hitter, with the respect he deserves.

This was a magnificent home run, even without accounting for who hit it. We shouldn’t downplay that; aesthetically, this home run deserves serious respect, as a hammered shot to deep center. That it was hit by Jon Gray, and not Scooter Gennett or someone, makes it all the sweeter. It must be a fun time to be a Rockies fan.

SABRy tidbits

  • After Vince Velasquez went from the Astros to the Phillies in the Ken Giles trade, he caught the attention of much of the baseball world with his three-hit, no-walk, sixteen-strikeout start against the Padres in April of 2016. But he hasn’t quite lived up to that promise, and as he returns from the DL, he himself is unsure if it’ll be as a reliever or starter. Victor Filoromo of the Good Phight has a breakdown of his comments, and the different possibilities and priorities Philadelphia is balancing.
  • The Rays failed to sign their 31st-overall pick from the 2017 draft, Drew Rasmussen of Oregon State. Danny Russell of DRays Bay writes that, as with the Astros and Brady Aiken several years ago, it seems likely that injury concerns are the motivating factor behind whatever discrepancy existed between the Rays’ offer and Rasmussen’s demands. Rasmussen now has the option of becoming a free agent, or of returning ot OSU and re-entering the draft next season.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jacob Faria (4.23 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.86 projected ERA)

Ho-hum, another Chris Sale matchup. Nothing to see here, just a starter with a 2.62 ERA/2.02 FIP with a K-BB rate of 30.8 percent. But if you think this is just another lopsided best pitching matchup, that is appearing in this slot only because of the talent of Chris Sale, you’re doing Jacob Faria a disservice. Last week, Joe Clarkin wrote about Faria’s stunning debut, and in the meantime, he’s put in another excellent start. Despite virtually no prospect pedigree to speak of, Faria is presently the owner of a 2.23 ERA and 2.84 FIP in his 32 13 innings of work. The projections are always slow to update; Faria’s have improved by just 0.15 points of ERA from the start of the season, and so this matchup looks less exciting than it should. Not because Faria is actually going to maintain a sub-3 ERA and FIP forever, but because he might be a lot better than we thought. Figuring out exactly how much better is the next challenge, and tonight is our next chance to take a whack.