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Launch angles — July 7, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/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

Corey Seager sends one back up the middle to tie the game — +.447 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

The Diamondbacks had a 4-1 lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. With a 96.5 percent win expectancy and needing just three outs, they were in great position to avoid getting swept. Enter Fernando Rodney.

The next four plate appearances went single, walk, walk, walk. Twelve of the first fifteen pitches that Rodney delivered had been balls. Four batters in and the score was now 4-2, there were still no outs and Arizona’s win expectancy was down to 51.3 percent. Despite Rodney’s wildness, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo decided that his closer would stay in to face the next batter — reigning rookie of the year, top three NL MVP finisher, and soon to be two-time All-Star Corey Seager. Uh oh.

Even though Rodney had been unable to find the plate to that point, Seager maintained his typically aggressive approach and swung over a first pitch changeup. He would take the next three pitches; a four-seam fastball called for a strike sandwiched between two changeups that weren’t close. With the count now 2-2, Seager took the bat off his shoulder and swung at a fastball in on his hands. The pitch would not have been called a strike, but Seager’s hands are so quick that he was able to get around on the ball and send it back up the middle. As it shot just under Rodney’s glove and past a diving Ketel Marte, Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger came around to score and tie the game.

The Diamondbacks then pulled Rodney after intentionally walking Justin Turner to create a force out at every base. New pitcher T.J. McFarland delivered one pitch to Chris Taylor which was promptly turned around for a walk-off single.

The Diamondbacks entered the ninth up three and did not record a single out.

Chart via FanGraphs

This has been The Fernando Rodney Experience™, accept no substitute.

Yesterday’s best game score

Rich Hill — 78

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.

Rich Hill is back, it appears, as for the fourth consecutive start he looked like his old self. The main difference is that instead of continually leaving his curveball up on his arm side, Hill has again started throwing it for strikes with consistency. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs broke down the mechanical details of Hill’s struggle and subsequent fix yesterday, and the curve’s improvement was evident by looking at its zone chart for the evening. He left just three up in the spot where he had previously been missing constantly.

7/6 vs. Diamondbacks
Chart via Baseball Savant

Hill allowed just two hits and one run on Thursday, which came courtesy of a monster dinger from Jake Lamb. In his early season struggles before revamping his mechanics, Hill’s primary issue had been walks. The Dodgers had to have been extremely encouraged by what they saw last night, as over his seven shutout innings Hill issued no free passes but struck out nine. He induced 17 swinging strikes; 11 from his four-seamer and six from the improved curveball.

Four starts ago against the Mets, Hill experimented with a cutter, throwing it 32 times. In his past three starts — including last night — that has been dialed back. He threw the pitch just five times against Arizona, after counts of six and four in his previous two outings. Not only that, but Hill’s signature occasional drop-down release point was completely absent from last night’s start.

7/6 vs. Diamondbacks
Chart via Baseball Savant

This would seem to be an indication that Hill is focusing solely on his primary mechanics and working to make sure they are sound before playing around with arm angles again. Hopefully he starts to reintroduce the drop-down as he continues to regain comfort with his mechanics because it’s an incredibly fun quirk to watch. It’ll be something to keep an eye on, but for now we can just appreciate that the 2016 version of Rich Hill seems to have graced us with his presence.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Ketel Marte — 440 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Well, would you look at that. Every entry in today’s “Launch Angles” is from last night’s Dodgers/Diamondbacks game. After a cursory skimming of our list of past winners, I’m confident in saying that this has never happened before. At least this last entry will give D’Backs fans a little something to hang their hats on.

Luis Avilan is not a LOOGY. His dynamite changeup allows him to handle righties just fine. After giving up a home run to left-hander Jake Lamb to lead off the eighth inning, Avilan threw two straight changeups to the right-handed Ketel Marte. The first one induced a whiff and the second was well below the zone. With the count 1-1, Avilan went away from the changeup and instead threw Marte a two-seam fastball. He should have gone back to the changeup.

Marte absolutely demolished Avilan’s middle-middle two-seamer. It left his bat at 109 miles per hour and landed three-quarters of the way up the pavilion, an estimated 440 feet away. The great thing about this dinger is how it travels so high up that at one point the backdrop is mostly just the pitch-black night sky. The edge of the jumbotron remains in the shot as does a palm tree to the left; but that white ball against the black of night? That’s a spectacular visual.

On a personal note, as someone who attends a lot of Dodgers’ games and was at this game in-person; I can confidently say that outside of batting practice it is extremely rare to see home runs travel this far up the Chavez Ravine bleachers. Marte — and every single person in the ballpark — knew it was gone immediately. He went with the understated head-down bat toss, presumably because the blast spoke for itself.

Gif via MLB.com

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jacob deGrom (3.43 projected ERA) vs. Carlos Martinez (3.47 projected ERA)

It’s always nice when this space features an evenly matched meeting of aces rather than a lopsided, mid-rotation starter against super-ace (Kershaw, Sale, or Scherzer) matchup. Jacob deGrom and Carlos Martinez have nearly identical projected ERAs going forward and have had similar seasons to this point.

Jacob deGrom vs. Carlos Martinez (2017)

Name GS IP K% BB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP fWAR
Name GS IP K% BB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP fWAR
Carlos Martinez 17 111.1 27.5% 9.3% 50% 13.2% 3.15 3.54 2.3
Jacob deGrom 16 104 29.0% 8.8% 46% 16.7% 3.55 3.62 2.2
Data via FanGraphs

All the important statistics are incredibly close. The most noticeable discrepancy is in the .40 difference in ERA. With how similar these two aces’ peripherals are, it’s likely that the gap in ERA is somewhat attributable to the Mets’ inferior defense. While according to FanGraphs the Cardinals have a negative -3.3 team Defensive Runs Above Average (Def), the Mets have a far worse mark of -12.4. Relatedly, Martinez is currently running a BABIP that is 36 points less than deGrom.

All of this stat parsing is meant to emphasize how evenly matched these two starters are. The Mets may start selling soon while the Cardinals are still very much alive, but regardless of where each team is in the standings, when two of MLB’s best pitchers face off it’s almost always worth checking out.


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