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
Marcell Ozuna grabs the lead — +.447 WPA
Players’ Weekend is cool. I don’t think it’s something I want to happen constantly, and it’s a little upsetting how much of it seems to be a ploy for MLB to sell more merchandise, but I can’t help but enjoy the nicknames and flashy cleats. Something about seeing “The Big Bear” flash on the scoreboard insert just tickles me pink.
And this was an appropriate home run for that nickname. Kirby Yates threw Ozuna a slider, and not a terrible one; while it didn’t have the bite or drop it needed, it wasn’t hung up in the zone, and it did fool Ozuna somewhat. But after initiating his swing early, Ozuna managed to hold his hands back and make contact, contact with enough power to drive this ball 425 feet to left. That takes a lot of strength, and is a dinger deserving of the Big Bear moniker.
This home run raised Ozuna’s ISO to .245, nearly sixty points higher than his maximum in any other season and 30th best in the league among qualified hitters. The apparent changes to the composition of the baseball, coupled with the changes in approach and launch angle employed by hitters, has resulted in a leaguewide home-run spike, which may or may not be a good thing. But one thing that the spike has done is democratized power. The top third of the ISO leaderboard is cluttered with names you wouldn’t expect to be there, among them Ozuna’s. There are lots of possible downsides to the home run spike, and MLB’s caginess about those changes to the baseball has been frustrating. But the novelty of seeing Ozuna, and others like him, hit for this kind of power has been fun.
Yesterday’s best game score
Jacob deGrom — 81
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.
Mets fans need something to feel good about, what with the insane outbreak of injuries they’re dealing with and the perpetual mismanagement of the franchise. Luckily, there’s still a ton of talent taking the field for the Mets on any given day, so if you can ignore all the other things that are going on and just focus on what’s happening right in front of you, it’s still possible to enjoy a Mets game. Jacob deGrom did his darnedest to make last night worth watching, and succeeded handily, going 7 2⁄3 IP with ten strikeouts, one walk, five hits, and one run.
deGrom isn’t generally thought of as a high-velocity guy. But as the above clip shows, he can dial it up all the way to 97, and when located at the top of the zone, that’s an incredibly difficult pitch to lay off of or to hit. When he’s also mixing in his curveball, for a strike or for a chase pitch, and his changeup that darts below the zone at the last second, deGrom looks like a legitimate ace, and ends up with 17 whiffs on the night (as he did in this start).
deGrom is just 29, and on most other teams, he’d probably be the number one starter and long-term asset; on the Mets, he’s just another guy, overshadowed by Syndergaard and always at risk of losing his arm in a freak Metsing accident. Hopefully someday he gets the teammates, management, and recognition he deserves.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Giancarlo Stanton — 462 feet
Goodness gracious. This was one of two home runs by Giancarlo “Cruz” Stanton last night, and while the other one barely scraped over the right field wall, this dinger wasted no time exiting the park. I am not a scout, and I don’t really know how to analyze swings, but I feel like this really swing encapsulates Stanton’s power and skillset. Travis Wood threw his twoseamer at a not-so-blistering 87mph, and on the inside half of the plate, making it ripe for the crushing. The speed with which Stanton whipped his hands around, with his closed stance and stable footing, all looks very familiar to anyone who has been following the big righty. He’s not just mashing dingers at an insane pace; he’s got a style. I expect a whole generation of little leaguers to grow up imitating his stance.
With his outstanding performance last night — three-for-four with two dingers, a double, and a walk, plus a diving catch on defense — Stanton’s wRC+ on the year is up to 163, behind only Joey Votto (164) and José Altuve (165) among qualified hitters. He leads the league in dingers by twelve over Judge. With 35 games to go, it’s very plausible that Stanton puts up the kind of home run figure (i.e., 60-plus) that we haven’t seen in a very long time. He’s locked in, to the benefit of those of us lucky enough to get to watch him.
But also to the benefit of his team, of course. The NL playoff picture had seemed to crystallize months ago, but the Marlins have slowly worked their way up above .500, while the Rockies and Diamondbacks have failed to pull away. Miami is just 4.5 games back of Colorado, with Milwaukee between at 3.5 games back. FanGraphs gives the Marlins a 13.5 percent shot at the Wild Card, but that’s based on the assumption that Stanton is a mortal human being, looking less and less likely each day. All the focus has been on the AL Wild Card race; the NL version is heating up, too.
- Tim Beckham has broken out since being traded from Tampa to Baltimore: He’s hitting .406/.423/.693 with his new squad, good for a 195 wRC+. That’s an incredible offensive output for a shortstop, but Brice Freeman of Camden Chat thinks Tim Beckham isn’t really a shortstop, and would be better employed shifting around the infield as a super-utility guy a la Ben Zobrist.
Today’s best pitching matchup
Taijuan Walker (4.42 projected ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (3.29 projected ERA)
It’s nice to have Bumgarner back from the DL. He’s probably a little bit overrated generally, thanks to his outsized postseason performances over the last few years, but it’s hard to be really overrated when you’re as good as he is. His dirt bike fiasco hasn’t seemed to leave any lingering effects, if you go by his 2.84 ERA, 3.34 FIP, or 3.82 DRA, and his return means we finally will feature the Giants every once in a while in this space. They’ve been mostly on the losing end of things this year; it’s good that Giants fans have something to look forward to every five games.
Opposing him is Taijuan Walker, who is in that weird space between prospect and major leaguer that players occupy when they haven’t yet fully developed, nor have they fully busted. Walker hasn’t been bad this season, with a 3.66 ERA, 4.11 FIP, and 3.93 DRA, but he hasn’t been great either, and after hearing about his prospect pedigree for years, that’s been somewhat of a disappointment. He’s still young, at 25, and likely not done developing as a pitcher. But whether he’ll live up to the hype remains to be seen.