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
Joey Gallo, Drew Robinson kill a Rangers rally — -.386 WPA
By the numbers, this is far from the most devastating double play of the season. Last month, Tim Beckham — back before he became Orioles Super Slugger Tim Beckham — hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. But Beckham’s DP came on a grounder, which softens the blow a little bit. This one happens so fast, it’s just brutal to watch.
So let’s look at it again in slow motion!
The Rangers came into the eighth inning trailing 2-1, thanks to a seventh-inning RBI single from Carlos Beltran that broke a 1-1 tie. But Chris Devenski was running out of gas; he walked the first two hitters, forcing Ken Giles to come in for the six-out save. After Carlos Gomez for some reason decided to bunt the runners over — seriously, dude, swing away! — Gallo stepped in.
Although he does have 49 walks this season, Gallo is a power hitter, first and foremost. So when he stepped in the box with men on second and third and one down, he was looking to drive the ball, and Giles knew it. Here are the two pitches he attacked Giles with:
Two sliders, both below the strike zone. The first one — like nearly 28 percent of Giles’ sliders — resulted in a swing-and-miss. Gallo managed to catch up with the second one, but Yuli Gurriel was there, and the inning was over.
Really, what makes it such a painful play for Texas — and Robinson, the baserunner — is that he’s out by a mile. Gurriel decides to play with his food, double- and triple-clutching before throwing to Alex Bregman. Robinson took a wide lead after Giles threw the pitch, which isn’t a bad idea when you’re on second base; in this instance, though, it ended up costing him and the Rangers big time.
Yesterday’s best game score
Chris Sale — 79
Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.
It’s not often that the word “meh” can describe a Chris Sale start. And yet, by Sale’s ridiculously lofty standards, this outing — I would argue — falls under that category. Consider:
- He pitched seven innings, as he had done in 17 of his 23 prior starts this season. He didn’t make it beyond that, though, which he’s done nine times in 2017.
- He allowed one run for the fourth time this year. He’s put up zeroes in seven of his starts this season.
- He struck out 12 Yankees hitters, a total he had equaled or surpassed six times before this start.
- His Game Score, while great in a vacuum, ranks ninth on the season for him.
With all that said: Chris Sale was really not messing around on Sunday. New York tallied just four hits and one walk against him, as he had the Bombers on the ropes the whole night. A fluky-good start from Jordan Montgomery — or a crappy performance from Red Sox hitters, depending on your perspective — meant Sale didn’t get the win. Then again, who cares?
As devastating as his slider/changeup combo can be, Sale’s four-seam fastball is the pitch that really sets him apart, whether he’s blowing it past hitters or — as shown in the GIF above — dropping it in on the corners of the strike zone. The heater gave Sale eight called strikes and 14 swinging strikes out of the 56 times he threw it. On a night when he didn’t have his best breaking ball (his slider got just one whiff) and he threw only six changeups, that fastball helped him keep the Yankees at bay.
“Meh,” like many descriptors, is a relative term. Sure, this game blended in with the rest of Sale’s incredible season, but for many other pitchers — such as fellow Boston starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz — a 79 Game Score would top the list. The point is, Sale is having a historically dominant year and he’ll win the AL Cy Young in a landslide (I’m sorry, Chris, it was all just a joke, I hope you’re not offended, please don’t cut up my shirts).
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Javier Baez — 463 feet
It’s easy to forget now — what with his generally mediocre bat and defense-first profile for the Cubs — but when he was coming up through the minors, Javier Baez had a ton of power. In 2013, he hit 37 total home runs, once every 15.6 plate appearances; for the sake of comparison, MVP candidate Aaron Judge is at 13.9 this year. Here’s what Baseball America’s John Manuel had to say after 2013:
Baez has special bat speed and produces top-of-the-scale power with an exceptionally aggressive approach and swing. He has tremendous plate coverage and really has no true holes in his swing, which takes a direct and violent path to the ball. Baez has work to do with pitch recognition and can drift at times thanks to his leg kick, but he hits the ball so hard, he doesn't have to square it up to hit it out of the park.
Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks, meanwhile, gave Baez’s power potential an 8 grade — and remember, the scouting scale goes from 2 to 8*, so that’s 100 percent. It looked like Baez would become, well, Aaron Judge.
*Technically, the scouting scale goes from 20 to 80, but for some reason Parks was a hipster and lopped off the 0.
Baez is obviously not Judge; he came into yesterday’s game with a career slugging percentage of .420 and ISO of .169. (Pretty nice combination, no?) That power is still there, though, and now Jake Barrett knows it. This wasn’t all that bad of a pitch:
After getting Baez to swing wildly at a down-and-away slider, Barrett tried to back-door a splitter for strike three. When you play with fire, though, you risk giving up the 33rd-longest of the year for any big-leaguer [editor’s note: enough with the mixed metaphors, Romano].
The reaction from Barrett — a bizarre sort of hopping dance — was fitting; it doesn’t quite compare to the Lance Lynn glove-throwing temper tantrum, but it definitely captures the mood. On the one hand, Baez came into this game with 16 home runs this season, and a penchant for striking out. On the other hand, well, Barrett knew what the scouting reports said. When something like this happens, you just have to hop it off.
- Anibal Sanchez didn’t have a home run problem, until he did. Now it’s made him a sub-replacement level pitcher for the Tigers. How did he start giving up so many four-baggers? Over at Bless You Boys, frisbeepilot proposes a theory — maybe hitters are punishing Sanchez’s mistakes more severely.
- Boog Powell is a great name, both for the Orioles slugger-turned-barbecue tycoon and the up-and-coming Athletics outfielder. But there are two guys in MLB history with the name “Boog,” which means it’s not the most unique name on the Oakland roster. Alex Hall has the incredibly fascinating list (I’m honestly so amazed that there’s been only one “Liam” in MLB history).
Today’s best pitching matchup
Collin McHugh (4.29 projected ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (3.60 projected ERA)
From 2014 to 2016, McHugh was a reliable Astros starter, pitching his way to a 3.71 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 543 innings. This season has been bumpier for the veteran right-hander, who spent most of the first half recovering from an elbow injury and has a 5.32 ERA and 4.73 FIP over 22 frames since his return. While he’s still racking up strikeouts and limiting walks, his ground ball rate has dropped to a new low, which doesn’t bode well for a guy who pitches half his games in a rather homer-friendly stadium.
Greinke, by contrast, is looking like his old self this year. He’s posted a 3.14 ERA and 3.29 FIP over 149 innings this season, on the back of an elite strikeout-to-walk ratio and a bunch of soft contact. In the second year of his record-setting contract, he’s helped the Diamondbacks surge toward an NL Wild Card spot. And since this game will go down at another bandbox of a ballpark, McHugh will really need to be on his game if he wants to beat Greinke.