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Launch angles — July 8, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-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

Jesús Aguilar hits the slam — .400 WPA

It’s fun when a grand slam shows up in this part of the recap, because it’s a nice change of pace. The majority of the biggest plays of a night arise in high-tension situations, where any move by either team could instantly shift the outcome of the game, and even something as innocuous as a single could change everything. Grand slams, by contrast, move the WPA needle through something close to brute force. When Aguilar hit this home run (his second of the night), the game was certainly close, but the Yankees still had three more shots at retaking the lead. The reason this was so impactful was because it made retaking the lead very, very difficult.

Tyler Clippard opened this plate appearance by throwing three straight balls, after which he nearly clawed his way out of the jam. He got Aguilar to take one strike, then to whiff at another, and daylight seemed within reach for the Yankees. But with the bases loaded, two outs, and three balls in a tie game, you can be pretty certain that the opposing pitcher is going to throw a strike, and as a result, Aguilar seemingly saw this pipe-shot fastball coming for a mile. To be fair to Clippard, he had been in the game a while at this point, long enough to be facing Aguilar for the second time, and had already thrown 29 pitches by the start of this matchup. This was a tough spot, and last night, he just wasn’t up to the task.

Lastly, it’s very fun to watch the brief second shown of pained reaction on the part of the Yankees fans sitting behind home plate. I might feel a bit bad, but I know how much those seats cost, so I don’t. They’ll get over it.

Yesterday’s best game score

Cole Hamels — 84

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.

Remember Cole Hamels? You might not have thought about him in a while, or at least, I haven’t, as he was on the DL for a couple months and has been pretty disappointing (4.12 ERA, 5.08 FIP) while off it. But last night, in his third start since returning to the roster, he was excellent, throwing 7 2/3s scoreless innings with three hits, no walks, and six strikeouts. With a fairly unexceptional eight whiffs on the night, his dominance was more about control than raw stuff, and indeed, four of his six strikeouts were of the looking variety. The reason for his success? His new mustache, obviously:

in combination with excellent command and deceptiveness. Hamels never went high in the zone except when he wanted to, which meant that those pitches — the pitches that could turn into solid contact, if a batter expects them or if they’re not located precisely — sailed through the zone for harmless strikes throughout his night.

Is Hamels back? Possibly, and given the injury struggles this season, it’s fair to pay more attention to his recent track record than to what he did back in April. Last night was at least an encouraging sign in that regard.

(Before we move on, though, shout out to R.A. Dickey, whose game score of 78 was the third-best of the night (behind Hamels and Zack Greinke’s 79), and who I really wanted to write about (so I am). Dickey has not resembled an ace in a very long time, but last night’s start — in which he threw seven innings of one-run ball with one walk, three hits, and seven strikeouts — is just the latest in a string of excellent outings. Dating back four starts, to his June 19th match against the Giants, Dickey has thrown 27 innings and allowed just three runs on six walks and 23 strikeouts. Is he good again? Almost definitely not, he’s a 42-year-old knuckleballer. Is it fun to hope? Hell yeah it is.)

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Tim Anderson — 451 feet

Tim Anderson is not who I expect to see in this slot on any given night. His profile is about as far from lumbering slugger as you can get, the low walk rate (2.9 percent) and zone rate (43.9 percent) of a player who pitchers feel little fear of, thanks to his lack of power (.113 ISO). This just goes to show that anybody can hit a 450-foot home run with a middle-middle fastball, a ballpark a mile above sea level, and a dream. (Not literally anybody; neither you nor I could do that.)

Now that the gesture at analysis is complete, I’d like to move to the horrible aesthetics of this home run. Colorado is (appropriately) a wonderful stadium to watch home runs in, I think, but the camera work on this shot is such that you literally cannot see the ball between the moment it leaves the frame and the moment it hits the ground. I had to look a couple times before I was even convinced that it passed through the shot a second time. I was also soured by the fact that I had to listen to Hawk Harrelson describe this home run while I made this gif, and he managed to pull off the stunning feat of sounding both bored and grating while doing so. José Pirela hit a homer just a foot shorter than this one last night; my suggestion is that you go watch that clip instead.

SABRy tidbits

  • It feels like picking on the Orioles to point out another issue they’re having with developing talent. But when it’s someone from their own team site doing it, like Mark Brown of Camden Chat noting that Baltimore has failed to sign an early-round draft pick for the third time since 2012, I think it’s okay. It’s possible that the Orioles’ are intentionally pursuing a riskier draft strategy, but it sure doesn’t look good from the outside.
  • The recent NHL expansion draft has many recalling the MLB’s own expansion (ourselves at BtBS included). At the main MLB site, Chris Cotillo went through each team’s roster and gave his best guess at the 15 players they would choose to protect if an expansion draft happened today. It’s a fun way of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of a system, for the present and the future.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Stephen Strasburg (3.25 projected ERA) vs. Julio Teheran (4.39 projected ERA)

The Nationals occupy a weird sort of headspace, thanks to some weird and unfortunate happenings in D.C. Their bullpen has been almost comically bad for months, and every attempt to fix it has gone horribly. On Friday night, they kept a game in rain delay for several hours, despite the fact that not a single drop of rain fell during the entire delay, which seemed near-certainly motivated by a desire not to force the bullpen into seven innings of performance. The point being that it’s easy to think of this organization as a shambles... until you see their excellent 51–35 record. There are several explanations, but the largest might be their starting pitching. Stephen Strasburg has been and will continue to be overshadowed by Max Scherzer, but he’s really, really great in his own right, and he’s been a core part of the Nats for nearly a decade. He’s quietly turning in another excellent season — 28.6 percent strikeout rate, 6.9 percent walk rate, a 3.09 FIP/2.54 DRA — and he deserves more accolades than he gets.

The Braves will be opposing him tonight, with Julio Teheran taking the bump. Teheran, like Strasburg, has been around surprisingly long, but his seventh season as a big-leaguer has not gone well, as his 5.71 FIP/5.71 DRA attest. The projections seem to think he’s still got promise, thanks to his decent track record, but that’s looking less and less likely with each bad start. If you’re watching this start for the pitching, you’re watching it for Strasburg. Luckily, he’s up to the task of carrying this matchup alone.