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Launch angles — August 15, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/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

Cameron Gallagher puts the game out of reach — +.260 WPA

Not too many exciting plays in last night’s games, apparently. This is the third-smallest swing of the season to be featured at this point in the recap. The Royals were already leading when Gallagher stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, making this WPA swing more a product of the brute force of scoring four runs than the circumstances or impact of those runs.

This was just Gallagher’s fourth big-league game, but he’s quickly learning things about the majors, like that pitchers make mistakes just like they do in the minors. Jharel Cotton was trying to throw a fastball at the bottom of the zone; instead, it ended up squarely in the middle of the zone, where Gallagher could put a charge into it. It wasn’t a cheap home run, exactly, or not in the way we normally use the phrase; the 24-year-old rookie made very solid contact, and if this hadn’t gone for a home run, it probably would’ve bounced off a wall somewhere and still broken this game wide open. But at 347 feet, there were five hits longer than this one that turned into outs. That’s okay, though; youngsters like Gallagher deserve a bit of luck. (Don’t ask me if Cotton also counts as a youngster or my theory will collapse.)

With the win, the Royals gained a half-game on the Angels, who had the night off, for the second Wild Card slot. Nine teams are within four games of the playoff spot, and only two of them will get to make it in the end. The Royals have put themselves in a good spot, and FanGraphs gives them a 26.9 percent chance at sneaking into the one-game playoff, behind only the Yankees and Angels (who currently hold the WC spots). This is the time of year where a single game or series can have an outsize effect on one team’s playoff shot, so every win matters deeply. The Royals have shown off some improbable runs in the past; do they have one more in them?

Yesterday’s best game score

Julio Teheran — 76

Atlanta actually lost this game, as Teheran was matched by Chad Bettis, who threw seven scoreless innings (though with just two strikeouts, allowing Teheran to take the top game score), and then let down by his bullpen. But you can’t place any of the blame for the loss on Teheran, as he was fantastic, going seven shutout innings with four hits, three walks, and eight strikeouts. Coors Field isn’t known for its pitchers duels, but that’s exactly what it hosted last night.

Teheran is having a weird year. This outing brought him to a 4.98 ERA/5.49 FIP/4.95 DRA on the season, and he’s on track for what would be the worst season of his career. But he’s clearly a talented pitcher, as is evident not just from his track record but from his performance last night. Pinpointing a reason for the decline is difficult, as Teheran’s velocity and pitch usage have stayed mostly the same. If he’s no different, though, his career-worsts in K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 are very difficult to explain.

The Braves were rumored to be interested in moving Teheran over the offseason; at the time, it seemed like a weird decision, given that he’s just 26, and under team control through 2020 for just $31 million. That’s exactly the kind of player a rebuilding team wants to hold onto, generally. But if they knew something was amiss, it might explain their willingness to part with the young righty. On the other hand, you can tell why there’d be demand for Teheran, even if other teams knew that he wasn’t fully right; knowing he can bust out an outing like this, even in the midst of the worst season of his career, has to give someone hope for his future. The Braves are at a crossroads, and are going to have a very interesting offseason. Teheran’s future will be one of several storylines to watch.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Marcell Ozuna — 456 feet

The home run that attracted the most attention this game came not from Ozuna but from his powerful teammate, Giancarlo Stanton, who set a new Marlins single-season record with his 43rd home run of the year. But it was Ozuna’s blast that had the most distance, heading deep into the center field shrubbery at Marlins Park. And it’s not like this was a fluke; this is the fifth time Ozuna has been featured in this part of the recap, just behind Stanton’s six. The 6’1”, 225-lb outfielder might not look like the standard power hitter, but his .242 ISO and 50 HRs over the last two seasons are proof that what he looks like doesn’t matter that much, and coincidentally, that he’s a really excellent player. The Marlins are more than just Stanton; they’ve got several young players who are worth your time and attention.

So why are they so bad? They haven’t made the playoffs since 2003, even though it shouldn’t be too hard to build a winning team on top of a foundation of Stanton, Ozuna, and Christian Yelich; add J.T. Realmuto to the mix, the Marlins’ breakout catcher, and you’ve got four excellent young players that form the core of a great team. Why hasn’t that team ever materialized? It’s easy to blame everything on Jeffrey Loria, but for good reason, and it sure looks like his fault in this case too. Loria is notoriously tightfisted, and Miami had the lowest payroll for each of 2014, 2015, and 2016. They added money in 2017, but not in a way that appeared to be focused on winning; $12m on Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa looks more like an attempt to snag some assets to trade away at the deadline than a good-faith push for the playoffs.hey

Loria is apparently in an agreement to sell the team, which is bittersweet. Bitter because it means he’s about to make a lot of money, and be rewarded for his years of terrible stewardship of the Marlins; sweet because it offers the promise of change in South Beach. Keep hitting magnificent dingers, Marcell Ozuna; maybe soon you’ll have a good team around you, so we can appreciate them properly.

SABRy tidbits

  • Joe Maddon is still the king of creative managing, and on Monday night, he deployed a four-man outfield against Joey Votto. It didn’t work, but it also didn’t not-work, in that Votto didn’t, e.g., hit the ball through the hole vacated by the infielder. You’ve got to wonder if we’ll look back on these sporadic weird shifts — four-man outfields, six-man infields — in a decade as the first signs of a major strategic shift.
  • The Brewers’ trade for Neil Walker might not seem like a high-impact move, given the timing and the price Milwaukee paid for his services. But as Kyle Lesniewski describes at Brew Crew Ball, Walker is a solid all-around player, and the Brewers are in desperate need of reinforcement.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Jacob deGrom (3.47 projected ERA) vs. Sonny Gray (4.05 projected ERA)

Subway series are deeply enjoyable, even if the Mets are out of the playoff race; that just means they have the chance to play spoiler, and inflict some spiteful damage on the Yankees’ playoff chances. (If that doesn’t sound fun to you, I can’t help.) This is the second game of the pair being played in Yankee Stadium; they’ll move to Citi Field for Wednesday and Thursday’s games.

This is also a great pitching matchup; Gray is still the shiny new thing in the Bronx, and there’s a lot that can be learned by watching him. It’s not clear precisely what kind of pitcher the Yankees acquired at the deadline; in his two starts since switching coasts, Gray has thrown 12 innings and allowed just four earned runs (good!), but walked seven and allowed three more unearned runs (bad!). That’s how Gray’s season was going before the trade, too, so clarity might not be forthcoming anytime soon.

deGrom, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency on an inconsistent Mets roster. He’s been the only Mets pitcher not to spend time on the DL this season, and his 3.21 ERA/3.51 FIP/2.85 DRA make him look as good as anyone on the Queens squad. He faced the Yankees once last year, throwing seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts en route to a 7–1 Mets win. This should be a fun game on several fronts.