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
Ben Gamel gives the Mariners a temporary lead — +.315 WPA
Neither team seemed to want to win this game that badly, as they both coughed up multiple leads over the course of the night. This home run came in the 4th, after the Mariners had already taken the lead once (on a Danny Valencia solo shot) and lost it (on a two-run Welington Castillo single). Chris Tillman got two outs in the 4th, but put Valencia and Nelson Cruz on base with a pair of walks, and then threw a slider to Gamel that didn’t dip down out of the zone like it needed to. Four hundred and fourteen feet later, the Mariners were back in the lead, with a big swing in win probability as a result.
But Miguel González gave the lead back again in the bottom half of the 4th, allowing a string of singles, walks, and HBP that resulted in two runs scoring. This game wasn’t over, though! After an Adam Jones dinger gave the Orioles a two-run lead, Gamel came through in the clutch again, hitting a bases-loaded single that tied the game at six. Alas, after all that, the Mariners bullpen couldn’t keep the O’s bats quiet for long enough, as a Trey Mancini single and Chris Davis double would put the Orioles in the lead. Six lead changes after the start of the game, Baltimore would hang on to win it.
I write something resembling this coming paragraph after every single game involving two American League teams, it seems. But one of the reasons this year is so great is because the mess of teams angling for the second Wild Card slot means that almost every game has playoff implications. After last night, the 66–66 Mariners and 66–65 Orioles have nearly identical postseason odds, at 11.4 and 11.1 percent respectively. Yesterday saw Seattle lose nearly four points, and the Orioles gain two-and-a-half. It’s cliche, but it’s also clear: every game matters, a lot, to these teams and their peers in the Wild Card race. This is going to be a fun September.
Yesterday’s best game score
Jeff Samardzija — 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.
Samardzija turned in a complete-game shutout against the woeful Padres offense last night, going the distance and allowing just three baserunners (all hits, no walks) while striking out five. His success was more a product of inducing manageable contact than of blowing the San Diego hitters away, as he had just eight whiffs on the night. But by generating 14 groundballs against just 4 flyballs, Samardzija made life easy for the defense behind him, and undoubtedly deserves some credit for all those outs made in the field.
The big righty is in the midst of his best season in a few years, by basically whatever measure you use. Samardzija striking out more hitters than he has since 2012, but more importantly, is walking just 3.6 percent of opposing batters, the lowest rate of his entire career. He’s throwing strikes more often, with a 48.0 percent zone rate (up from 45.6 percent the year prior), but the contact he’s allowing isn’t any harder: his hard-hit rate is down from last year, and while his home run rate is up, the increase is nearly identical to the leaguewide increase in home runs. At 32, Samardzija looks better than he has in any of the last three years.
The question for the Giants is, of course, what to do with his resurgence. Samardzija is in year two of a pretty friendly contract, one that pays him $18m per year through 2020. What San Francisco does with Samardzija over the offseason will serve as a bellwether of their broader plans. If they want a quick rebuild, or no rebuild at all, I would imagine Samardzija stick around; his success this year shows that he’s likely to still be at least a serviceable pitcher in 2019 and 2020. If he’s traded, however, it might be a sign that the Giants are headed toward a deeper rebuild, one with a target date of 2020 or beyond. Here’s hoping for the former.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Wilson Ramos — 436 feet
The Rays put the beatdown on the Royals last night, running the score all the way up to a lopsided 12–0. This swing from Ramos looks almost half-hearted, a wave that somehow resulted in the ball traveling 436 feet to straightaway center. Ian Kennedy’s pitch was a curve that didn’t curve, and that instead hung up in the bottom part of the zone where Ramos could easily swat it.
I was a bit puzzled when the Nationals cut Ramos, given his good framing and decent past offensive performance. Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR (which incorporates framing) graded him out as a 5-win player last year, a downballot MVP candidate and not the kind of player you just cut. On the one hand, they look somewhat smarter than me; Ramos’s home run last night raised his line to a mere .243/.283/.382 and a 77 wRC+, and Baseball Prospectus views him as a barely replacement-level player. On the other hand, Matt Wieters, the guy the Nats cut Ramos to make room for, has been just as bad. Nobody looks particularly clever, is the upshot.
This was the fourth-straight game in which the Royals were shut out, a stretch in which they have been outscored 32–0. With all the AL teams clustered together, their records are not a particularly good way of figuring out who is talented and who is not. The 66–67 Rays have a projected win rate of .537 for the rest of the season, per FanGraphs, ranking 8th in MLB behind all the division leaders and the Yankees. The 64–66 Royals have a projected rate of .492, all the way down in 18th. It’s not just the losses, but the way the Royals have lost these games that might make them a bit nervous. Of course, with one month to go in the season, anything can happen; all it takes is a bit of good luck.
- Hanley Ramírez has been a serious disappointment for the Red Sox, both over the body of his contract and in this year specifically, when Boston was hoping he would pick up some of the slack left behind after the departure of David Ortiz. At Over the Monster, Matt Collins lays out the case for cautious optimism when it comes to Hanley’s apparently horrendous August.
- Aroldis Chapman has a track record of good pitching, but he’s looked somewhere between shaky and horrible this last month, and his contract isn’t getting any smaller. Matt Provenzano of Pinstripe Alley lays out the hard choices that may soon be facing the Yankees if Chapman doesn’t improve.
Today’s best pitching matchup
Brett Anderson (4.39 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.88 projected ERA)
It seems not that long ago that Brett Anderson was one of a slew of savvy Dodgers signings; someone who, along with Brandon McCarthy and Kenta Maeda, would be individually fragile but jointly reliable. And for the 2015 season, it looked like Anderson might even be individually reliable, as he made 31 starts, threw 180 1⁄3 innings, and ran a 3.69 ERA. Over the two seasons since, however, he’s pitched only 33 1⁄3 innings in the big leagues, and has an ERA of 9.45 in those few innings. He’s probably not totally broken, but that Anderson is joining the Jays probably says as much about the state of their rotation as it does himself.
But Anderson isn’t who makes this matchup worth watching. There’s some real drama to a Chris Sale start for the first time in recent memory; his last two starts have been downright shaky, with game scores of 52 and 21 respectively. Boston’s fortune hangs almost entirely on his shoulders, in both the regular and post-season, so any display of fatigue or possible injury on his part is cause for immense concern. It’s certainly too early to jump to those conclusions, but I imagine this will be a closely watched game in Boston. If Sale does struggle again, you might see some volcanic takes tomorrow morning.