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
Justin Upton walks off a slugfest — +.662 WPA
This was a comeback a while in the making. At one point in this game, the Tigers’ win probability was as low as 2.7 percent, when they were down 11–6 with one out in the 7th. But they chipped away over the next couple innings — a triple and a sac fly from Mikie Mahtook and Upton, a string of singles, a two-run homer from Jose Iglesias — and by the time Detroit came to the plate in the bottom of the 9th, the lead was down to one. To the extent that “momentum” is a real thing, Detroit had it.
After putting Mahtook on base in front of Upton, Matt Belisle was doing his best to not let something like this happen. His first three pitches were nibbles around the edge of the zone, and if you wanted to be kind to Belisle, you could note that all of them could plausibly have been strikes, and that only one was called as such. (Upton also deserves some credit for not offering at any of them.) That put Belisle in a bad spot, and then he made a bad pitch: an 89mph fastball squarely in the zone, and Upton proceeded to crush it.
“Act like you’ve been there before” is usually a dumb thing to say, deployed by some stodgy talking head to tell a player that there showing too much emotion, or showing it in the wrong way. That’s bad. But acting like you’ve hit a huge walk-off before can be extremely cool, if it fits with your personal style. Yasiel Puig should never act like he’s been anywhere before, but it works for Upton.
No flip of the bat required; the derisive toss is much better. “I’m done with you,” Upton says. “Your services are no longer required, for I have finished this game.” Baseball is cool.
Yesterday’s best game score
Mike Clevinger — 81
Starts like this are why Mike Clevinger is so exciting. If you just look at his profile, there doesn’t seem to be anything too special there: he’s a 26-year-old in his second season in the majors, he had a good-but-not-great 2.91 ERA over parts of two seasons at AAA, and he’s currently running a 3.65 ERA and 4.11 FIP. That looks like the profile of a useful depth starter, but scouts see the potential for something greater if his offspeed and breaking balls can develop depth and control. Last night was a preview of who Clevinger might be if he can accomplish that development.
He went seven innings, striking out nine Rays while allowing just five baserunners (via four hits and one walk). Clevinger was pounding the zone with his fastball, high and low, but it was the low fastballs that enabled his other offerings to be so deceptive (and effective). His mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider don’t look any different when the batter is deciding to swing, but then one stays in the zone for a strike and the other drops to his ankles.
This was Clevinger’s second start of the year with a Game Score over 80, but his next-best start had a Game Score of 71. There hasn’t been much in the middle; he’s shown fantastic upside, and kind of scuffled along otherwise. Even if nothing else changes, that’s not terrible; Clevinger will probably finish the season with roughly two WAR, the equivalent of a solid number-four or -five starter. But as this start shows, he’s got the potential for so much more, if he can achieve some consistency.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Giancarlo Stanton — 464 feet
Stanton has always been really, really hyped, but for various reasons mostly outside his control, hasn’t reached his apparent potential. Especially as a sabermetrically inclined fan, to whom huge dingers, walks, and defense all have value, it could be hard to understand why there was so much excitement for Stanton. In his career, he’s had seasons as a good player, and even a very good player, but never a great player.
That might be changing, thanks to his efforts over the last few weeks. This is Stanton’s eighth home run in his last nine games. This is the third of those home runs that’s been the longest of the night. He’s always had incredible, light-tower power (or dinger-statue power); Stanton is now displaying some consistency. No one expects him to maintain this pace, but his contact rate is higher than its ever been in his career. With each additional dinger, this looks less like a flukey streak and more like a breakout from an already-excellent player.
Marlins Park is, objectively, pretty terrible; I think we can all agree on that. But it’s also where Stanton has made his home for his entire career, and there are certain aspects of it that I now associate with him. The dumb statue, of course, but also the left-center concourse that he hit this home run onto. I feel like I’ve seen a dozen or more Stanton baseballs rattle around that walkway, which has nothing aesthetically pleasing about it but is now associated with something very joyous in my head. Jeffrey Loria doesn’t deserve the Marlins, or Stanton in particular; Marlins Park doesn’t deserve him either. Stanton makes them both look far, far better than they are.
- You’d be forgiven for not thinking too much about Aníbal Sánchez. He’s unlikely to appear in this recap, unless it’s on the wrong side of the longest home run of the night. “frisbeepilot” of Bless You Boys dug into his propensity for the home run with a creative metric, and what he found may shock you, but only if you’re shocked by terrible, terrible pitchers.
Today’s best pitching matchup
Matt Moore (4.19 projected ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (3.09 projected ERA)
It’s easy to forget that Matt Moore was a really popular breakout candidate prior to last season. Over the last eighteen months, however, his fastball velocity has fallen without any corresponding increase in control, and the result is his current 5.88 ERA and 4.69 FIP. There’s still some talent in there, but it’s hard to imagine Moore turning a corner anytime soon.
Which is why it’s a good thing that he’s facing Scherzer tomorrow. The righty is still one of the frontrunners for the NL Cy Young, depending on how much voters care about Kershaw’s time on the DL. Whether he wins or not, Scherzer deserves recognition for the season he’s having. He’s demonstrated fantastic heights, with several near-no-hitters and frequent appearances as the best pitcher of the night in that section of the recap, and fantastic consistency. If you ignore his injury-shortened start from August 1, just four of 22 starts have seen Scherzer earn a game score under 60. There are no guarantees in baseball, but you can safely predict a dominant effort from Scherzer in any given game.