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Launch angles — August 22, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/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

Granderson gives his new team a lead with a slam — +.477 WPA

Gerrit Cole started the top of the 7th having thrown 90 pitches, and with six innings of shutout ball under his belt. He had struck out seven Dodgers, walked one, and given up just four hits. If my calculations are correct, he had a game score of 73 at that moment. He was working on a very good start, in other words. But the 7th did not go as planned for Cole and the Pirates. He started the inning by giving up a single to Chase Utley and walking Logan Forsythe, putting runners on and bringing around the top of the potent Dodgers’ order for the fourth time of the game. A run scored on a Corey Seager single, a Justin Turner single re-loaded the bases, and Granderson came to the plate with the bases loaded,

It seemed like the various analyses of the Granderson deal between the Mets and Dodgers, published here and elsewhere, tended to focus on the veteran outfielder’s defensive value and versatility, or general offensive profile. That’s not wrong, but it felt easy to forget that Grandy is a legitimate power hitter, not just a glove-first outfielder with a decent bat. His 21 home runs don’t leap off the page, but his .260 ISO is 23rd-highest in all of baseball, just ahead of Gary Sánchez and just behind George Springer. Cole can’t have been feeling particularly confident about escaping this inning unscathed when the newest Dodger came to the plate.

This slam wouldn’t end the game, however. Pedro Báez would blow the lead in the 8th, walking three batters and allowing a double to Josh Harrison. The result was bonus baseball, and a contest that wouldn’t end until the 12th, when Yasiel Puig finally broke the tie with a solo shot to lead off the inning. But it was Granderson’s slam that let the Dodgers get to that point. Last night illustrated why he was a valuable addition, even for a team as excellent as the Dodgers.

Yesterday’s best game score

Cole Hamels — 69

This is not a great game score, or at least, not a great game score to be the best game score of the night. There’s only been one lower best game score, a 67 from Gio González back in early April on the fourth day of the season. In other words, this start isn’t as dominant as what we’re used to seeing here. Hamels threw seven innings of two-run ball against the Angels, allowing three hits, two walks, and striking out three.

I don’t mean to suggest that this start wasn’t good, though, especially since Hamels’s stuff was probably a bit better than that paltry strikeout total makes it look. He generated 12 whiffs against the Angels hitters, with nine of them coming against his excellent changeup. The cambio also got a pair of pop-ups (one of which is pictured above), the kind of guaranteed out that’s almost as good as a strikeout. His plan with the pitch appeared to be simple: keep it low, and moving away from righthanded batters. That’s the classic changeup strategy, and it worked for Hamels.

With a bit of squinting, you can make this start look better than it grades out to be by game score. The formula unfortunately doesn’t have a variable for squinting, but that’s why we write the words that go with these recaps, instead of just telling you what the best game score was. Hamels was good, and for a Rangers team that, along with everyone else in the AL, is fighting for a Wild Card spot, he provided a much-needed boost.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Hanley Ramírez — 429 feet

Mike Clevinger’s windup has always looked really, really weird to me. Something about the herky-jerky leg kick, especially with men on base, always strikes me as very unnatural. As a result, it’s always a bit of a surprise when all that motion generates a simple, straight pitch into the strike zone. And that’s all this pitch was to Hanley: an 81mph slider that didn’t slide even a bit. Unlike me, Hanley was not surprised to see such a pitch, and he turned on it, sending it deep into the left field bleachers. That was the last pitch Clevinger threw on the night, as he was pulled immediately after.

Clevinger is a weird pitcher, seemingly with gobs of promise that he hasn’t yet lived up to. He had the best start of the night ten days ago, and the main difference between this outing and that one appears to be his control, particularly of the slider (as amply demonstrated above). The slider is an important pitch to Clevinger; it’s his prime breaking pitch, and when he’s on, it’s nearly indistinguishable from his fastball until it’s too late for the hitter to avoid swinging at it while it dips out of the zone. When he’s not on, well...

instead of consistently dipping, and giving a nice chart with a purple cluster at the bottom of the zone and a green streak through it, the slider stays up, and you get the muddled, overlapping chart shown above.

Consistency seems like such an easy thing to develop — we already know you can do this thing a lot of the time; now just do it all the time — but experience shows it to be otherwise. Unless Clevinger figures out how to keep his slider from hanging, he might be appearing in this part of the recap more often than the best start portion.

SABRy tidbits

Today’s best pitching matchup

Jeff Samardzija (3.73 projected ERA) vs. Jimmy Nelson (4.11 projected ERA)

Samardzija’s ERA to date this year is an ugly 4.79, but both his FIP of 3.55 and his DRA of 3.44 suggest he’s been much better than that would indicate. He’s striking out more batters than he has in any season since 2012, and walking the fewest of his entire career. All the runs are mostly due to a .325 BABIP and paltry 66.1 percent strand rate, both of which are substantially worse than league average and generally outside of a pitcher’s direct control. He’s good, is the takeaway.

But he’s toiling away for a team that’s been long without any realistic shot at the playoffs, and as of this past weekend, factually without a shot. Nelson probably isn’t a name you know as well, but he’s been just as good as Samardzija, and his Brewers are right in the thick of the NL Central race. He doesn’t have much of a track record to support 2017’s 3.74 ERA, 3.06 FIP, and 3.33 DRA, which is why the projections don’t think as highly of him as they do his opponent. But our own Ron Wolschleger lauded Nelson back in July, and he’s stayed effective since then. Samardzija might seem intimidating, but the Giants as a whole have been pretty awful this season, making this a great chance for the Brewers to pick up a win and possibly some ground in the Central.