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Launch angles — August 10, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-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

Yadi Molina puts the Cardinals on top — +.475 WPA

Blah blah blah, a super-clutch home run that took the Cards from a losing position to a near-certain win; WHATEVER. Here’s what happened just before this home run:

Look at that little guy. Look at him stroll past Lorenzo Cain with no regard for him or anybody else on the field. Time to break down everyone involved in this series of events.

THE CAT: outstanding. Great speed and agility — look at the acceleration when he reaches the warning track — and while stolid traditionalists might not appreciate what he did after being picked up, don’t tell him what “the right way to play the game” is. He’s also at a spot on the aging curve where he could still add a lot of muscle, and if he keeps the speed that’s been his carrying tool thus far, there’s the potential for a superstar here.

THE CARDINALS EMPLOYEE: terrible. Terrible! Have you literally never carried a cat? I understand that you’re trying to hurry off the field, but act like you’ve been here before — hold him tight, don’t let him bite you, and don’t freak out if his claws happen to catch you while he squirms. I guess it could’ve been worse; the cat could’ve evaded him on the track and strung this out for another three or four minutes. Actually, that doesn’t sound worse at all.

LORENZO CAIN: fine. Has a bit of fun, smiles, but doesn’t try to make friends! If I’m him I’m squatting and making little cat noises as soon as that guy is within fifty feet of me. This isn’t a streaker; it’s okay to interact. Remember the rally mantis? The rally mantis doesn’t have shit on the rally kitten. You blew your shot, Cain. If the Royals don’t make the playoffs, you and I will know why.

Yesterday’s best game score

Justin Verlander — 86

When I was scanning the box scores to see which starter would gain the immense honor of this slot in the recap, I was pleasantly surprised to see Verlander take the top spot of the night, with his eight-inning, six-strikeout, three-walk, one-hit shutout start against the Pirates. He hasn’t appeared in the recap yet this season, and that’s not a surprise; while he’s in the midst of a decent season (3.97 FIP/3.83 DRA) he’s rarely shown the kind of dominance he used to possess. I thought this might be a flash of that, and might even allow the Tigers to extract a little bit more value out of the Astros (or whoever else ends up trading for Verlander).

But while this was a good start by game score, it was definitely not a classic Verlander start, and may or may not be encouraging to a team thinking about pulling the trigger on a trade. He had twelve swinging strikes on the night, including the two pictured above, but most of the whiffs came on pitches that were in the zone:

It sure looks like Verlander has less ability to deceive hitters into swinging at junk than he used to, forcing him to stay a little closer to the heart of the zone and risk a big hit if he misses in the wrong direction. It certainly worked last night, but I don’t think I would look at three walks and six strikeouts over eight innings and think that the old Verlander was back.

That’s not to say this wasn’t a great start on its own terms, though. Verlander kept the contact soft; while he got just six ground balls, versus 14 balls in the air, just six balls had an exit velocity over 90mph. This wasn’t a night where a pitcher’s fielders bailed him out with outstanding defense, but a night where the pitcher made things easy for the guys behind him. That doesn’t mean the pitcher can do the same thing next time, and I don’t think this start will convince anyone that Verlander is back in business, but he earned his game score and spot in the recap.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Nelson Cruz — 450 feet

Nelson Cruz is heating up. After not appearing in this recap for the first four months of the season, this is the second time in four days he’s hit the biggest home run of the night, thanks to a 465-foot shot on Sunday and his 450-foot shot last night. (He also had another home run last night, though it traveled a mere 436 feet.) Maybe that’s why I haven’t thought too much about Cruz this season, but he’s in the midst of yet another solid effort out in Seattle. He’s running his highest walk rate of any full season and his lowest strikeout rate since 2010, along with a .248 ISO that’s not as good as it has been in recent years but is still excellent. That sure looks like the profile of an aging slugger who is losing some of the distance on his hits, but is finding other ways — patience, mostly, and good zone discipline — to compensate. Plus, as the above gif shows, he’s still got a goodly amount of power he can unlock.

When Cruz signed his four-year, $58m contract with the Mariners prior to 2015, the most likely outcome seemed like an early burnout and some regret on Seattle’s part when Cruz reached his upper-30s. Instead, it looks like the big righty is aging more gracefully than anyone expected.

Now, with the analysis out of the way: the Coliseum is a terrible ballpark, ill-suited to baseball and coming apart at the seams. But while its cavernous nature certainly makes it a bad place to watch a game, it makes it a pretty good place to watch a home run. Something about the football-style nested upper decks makes this dinger look really great (though it’s a little upsetting that it lands about 20 feet from the closest fan). It’s also a very pleasing swing, and the sound of the ball off the bat is pretty close to the platonic ideal of baseball noises, so the overall effect is solid. This is a good home run.

SABRy tidbits

Today’s best pitching matchup

Danny Salazar (3.76 projected ERA) vs. Blake Snell (4.02 projected ERA)

This is a nice change of pace, in that it’s a matchup between two solid pitchers, rather than a totally lopsided matchup between, e.g., Chris Sale and literally your next-door neighbor. Salazar is having one of his classic, mercurial campaigns; he struggled mightily to start the season, moved to the bullpen briefly, and in his three starts since returning, has been excellent, with game scores of 89, 63, and 78. You can’t be sure what you’ll get with Salazar, but it’ll probably be interesting one way or another.

Blake Snell has cooled off substantially from his surprising 2016, but as I wrote about Austin Pruitt a few days ago, basically every young starter in interesting in some way, and that’s doubly true of Rays starters. The main thing holding Snell back this season is his 12.6 percent walk rate; if he can get that under control (get it?!?!?!) there’s a lot of potential here.