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Launch angles — August 24, 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

Hosmer hits a three-run homer for the walk-off — +.824 WPA

You can tell this walk-off was a surprise by the look of shock on Hosmer’s face.

The Royals entered the inning down by a run, and Alex Gordon opened the frame by walking, pushing KC’s win probability up to 34.5 percent. But two quick flyouts dropped it down to 10.2 percent, and even when Melky Cabrera managed to get on base with a single, it only increased to 17.6 percent. There were lots of ways for the Rockies to win the game in an instant; there were fewer ways for the Royals to stay alive, and even fewer ways for them to win.

Greg Holland — old friend of the Royals, and in to close the game out for the Rockies — threw Hosmer three straight sliders. Holland throws his slider about as often as his fastball, sometimes more, but it’s possible he should’ve mixed things up a bit more than he did. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the location of this pitch, knowing what we do about Hosmer:

Up and in is the right place to pitch the Royals lefty, generally, but last night he was able to turn on it and yank it down the line.

Anyone who demanded that the Royals trade away their departing free agents as the trade deadline should have to write a public apology. I am not one of those people; I wrote that the Royals should try for one more year, because even if they didn’t win the World Series, being in the mix of a Wild Card race is fun and good. I feel like a dang prophet. With this win, the Royals are currently a half-game out of the second Wild Card slot, and per FanGraphs, the most likely of the 8 teams in the mix to end the season in that slot. Last night’s walkoff would’ve been great even if KC was ten games below .500 and completely out of the playoff picture, but it’s much better because they’re not.

Yesterday’s best game score

Rich Hill — 93

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance, and recently updated by Tom Tango. The score begins at 40, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, runs, and home runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

It’s very, very easy to make the case that Rich Hill should be one of the happiest people in the world. His career once seemed deader than dead, and was revived in spectacular and thrilling fashion. He’s extremely rich, and can say that he earned his riches honestly and through his own merit. And the way he makes his (super-lucrative) living is by playing a game, spending all his time outdoors hanging out with his buddies. Rich Hill doesn’t need sympathy; he’s doing just fine.

What’s amazing about baseball is the ease with which it overcame all those rational arguments, and gave you no choice but to feel complete and total empathy toward Rich Hill last night. As I’m sure you know, Rich Hill carried a perfect game into the 9th inning last night. He lost it in the 9th, not on a walk or a hit, but on an error. And when he closed out the 9th with a no-hitter intact, he didn’t get to rest, because the Dodgers had also been shut out all game. The gif above is of Hill after a strikeout, one of his many on the night; the gif below is of Hill at the end of the game, when Josh Harrison pulled a 347-foot home run down the line and sent the Pirates home as victors.

Baseball is cruel, and unfair, and despite being nothing more than a game, capable of causing real pain. It straddles the line between meaning and irrelevance; important enough to make us hurt, and unimportant enough to make the deliberate infliction of that hurt okay. Caring about baseball is emotional gambling. It enables moments of intense elation, and it enables moments of deep despondency. Rich Hill should feel great about last night, because he pitched an objectively fantastic game: nine innings of no-hit ball, with a final line of 9+ IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 BB, and 10 Ks. Or he should feel nothing about last night, because baseball is just an idle distraction, and not something that really means anything. But he’s decided to care about baseball, just as you and I do, and so instead of feeling joy or nothingness, he hurts. That baseball can create such intense emotion out of essentially nothing is amazing.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Edwin Encarnación — 452 feet

This was a blast. With an exit velocity of 111.6mph and a 27 degree launch angle, this ball did not take its time exiting the stadium. The highlight called it a “moonshot”; I think moonshots have to be big, towering drives that take a few seconds to exit the field of play. This home run was a bit less showboat-y, and a bit more focused on the task at hand.

Encarnación is having himself a solid season, if not one at the lofty heights he’s achieved in the past. His .239 ISO is his lowest since 2011, the year before his breakout, but as this dinger shows, the raw power is still there; he can still send balls a mile when he runs into them. The eroding skills appear to be his contact and coordination, as his 21.3 percent strikeout rate and 23.5 percent whiff rate are both career worsts.

Encarnación didn’t whiff on this Addison Reed slider, however, thanks to another one of his skills that is just as potent as ever: his patience. His 2017 walk rate of 21.3 percent is also a career high, and in this plate appearance, the slugging righty managed to lay off two consecutive sliders outside the zone, forcing Reed to come inside with the third and throw him a hittable pitch. Maybe this was a mistake, but maybe not; if you’re going to throw a slider on 2-0, throwing it in that corner of the zone is probably the best bet. Maybe the mistake was throwing three straight sliders in that part of the zone; Encarnación lunged for this pitch, and a fastball inside could’ve totally addled his expectations. Or maybe there was no mistake at all, and Encarnación just beat a pitcher in a one-on-one battle, as he has done so many times before and will do again so many times in the future.

SABRy tidbits

  • The AL playoff picture is a tangled, confusing, and incredibly fun mess. But are all these teams in play for the Wild Card because the AL is mediocre, or because the AL is competitive? It’s not an easy question to answer, but over at Royals Review, J.K. Ward takes an admirable stab at it.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Stephen Strasburg (3.35 projected ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel (3.75 projected ERA)

This will be Strasburg’s second start since returning from the DL, following a solid six-inning effort against the Padres. Given the Nationals’ exceptionally comfortable 14-game lead in the NL East, and the unlikelihood that they either gain 13.5 games on the Dodgers for home field advantage in the NLCS or lose 8.5 games on the Cubs/whoever ends up winning the NL Central for home field advantage in the Divisional round, Washington doesn’t have that much to play for in the last few months of the season. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them treat Strasburg carefully, given his elbow pain earlier this year and his injury struggles throughout his career. He left last game after 91 pitches; expect to see a similarly short leash tonight.

Opposing Strasburg is another top-of-the-line starter for a team that is extremely comfortable in their division and who has experienced some recurring injury issues this year. Keuchel has been healthy for about a month now, so there’s less uncertainty with him than with Strasburg, but Houston’s skinny depth chart at SP means that they need him healthy for the playoffs. Both these pitchers are also very good, or else their matchup wouldn’t be previewed in this space. But more than the outcome of tomorrow’s game, their health is extremely important to each of their teams’ chances in the postseason.