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Launch angles — August 31, 2017

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Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/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

Cliff Pennington — yeah, that guy — hits a clutch grand slam — +.627 WPA

GIF via

Wednesday was quite a night for offense — of the 17 games played, eight featured at least 10 runs combined. There weren’t a ton of singular big plays, though; most teams either held onto the lead or gave it up in bits and pieces. As the time passed, it looked like just another boring dog day in the tail end of summer.

Then the Angels-Athletics game happened, and man, was it something to see. Just look at this graph:

Image via FanGraphs

Los Angeles took an early 3-0 lead on home runs from Mike Trout (whom we’ll revisit in a moment) and Albert Pujols. Oakland rallied in the fourth, piling on eight runs against Parker Bridwell and Blake Wood. Pujols went yard again in the fifth to narrow the deficit to 8-5, although the A’s still had a comfortable lead heading into the seventh.

That’s when the Halos ignited a rally of their own. Trout knocked a one-out single off Ryan Dull, who proceeded to plunk Pujols. Daniel Coulombe entered the game for one batter, giving up an RBI hit to Kole Calhoun; Chris Hatcher managed to strike out C.J. Cron, but a walk to Luis Valbuena put the winning run on base for L.A.

With the bases loaded and two out, Cliff Pennington stepped to the plate. He had a lifetime slugging percentage of .341 in 3,071 plate appearances. Since his debut in 2008, only 10 other batters have a lower ISO than Pennington’s .097. He’s still a big-league hitter, though, and that means when he gets a center-cut fastball...

Image via Brooks Baseball

...he can do some serious damage. (And, of course, it helps if a fan reaches over to grab the ball.)

GIF via

The grand slam put the Angels ahead for good, 10-8. After getting two home runs from an all-time great hitter and a moonshot from the best active player on the planet, Los Angeles needed a 32-year-old utilityman to step up. As the postseason nears, contributions from the Penningtons of the world will will determine who gets a Wild Card spot and who stays home.

Yesterday’s best game score

Stephen Strasburg — 88

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.

GIF via

Wednesday was quite a night for pitching (well, aside from the games where teams scored a lot of runs — the point is, MLB is a land of contrast). Across the majors, four pitchers had a Game Score of at least 80 yesterday. To put that in perspective, this is our 146th Launch Angles recap, and 44 of the previous editions didn’t have a single Game Score of 80 or higher.

But Andrew Cashner (85), Rafael Montero (84), and Jose Berrios (83) don’t get a spot in the recap. Strasburg takes home the top spot after his gem against the Marlins — a complete-game shutout with six hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts. Miami isn’t the offensive pushover it used to be, so this was a pretty tall task for Strasburg, and he came through.

Strasburg didn’t have his usual swing-and-miss stuff against the Marlins, who whiffed just 10 times total in the game. It was just the eighth time this season the Nationals right-hander had 10 or fewer whiffs in a game. He made up for that, though, with a ton of called strikes — 24 in all. That wasn’t because of a favorable strike zone, either:

Image via Baseball Savant

If anything, Jose Lobaton’s framing cost Strasburg a few extra called strikes. But he wasn’t deterred. Facing 32 hitters, he required just 110 pitches overall, recording quick outs and cruising through nine innings.

Without much fanfare, Strasburg is having an incredible season in the nation’s capital. At age 29, he has a 2.90 ERA and 2.96 FIP over 142 23 innings; when adjusted for the higher scoring across MLB, those are the best full-season marks of his career. In three starts since coming off the DL, he’s allowed two runs in 21 innings, picking up 23 Ks along the way. If this guy is your second-best pitcher, you have a good chance at winning a postseason series for the first time in decades.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Mike Trout — 444 feet

GIF via

This is the second straight night an Angels hitter has clubbed the longest round-tripper of the day. On Tuesday, Martin Maldonado — he of the .352 career slugging percentage — took Chris Smith 465 feet deep. A more usual suspect ascended to the throne on Wednesday, as Trout got a 1-1 fastball in a place he liked:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Whether it’s outside, inside, or right down the middle, Trout feasts on belt-high pitches. So this sinker from Kendall Graveman, lacking that trademark sink, was just asking for trouble, and sure enough, it ended up in the rock pile.

We should probably spend more time talking about Mike Trout. (I know we talk about him a lot already, but come on — this is Mike Trout). With four hits in this game, he’s slashing an insane .327/.459/.667 for a 194 wRC+. While Jose Altuve still leads the AL in fWAR, Trout is right on his heels, and a run for the MVP isn’t out of the question.

SABRy tidbits

  • Here at Beyond the Box Score, we love criticizing uber-talented baseball players for their minute flaws. Corey Kluber is one such uber-talented baseball player, and he's had some minor struggles this year with the long ball. Over at Let's Go Tribe, BtBS's Merritt Rohlfing scrutinized the homers he's given up.
  • While the Red Sox offense is slumping, the team still leads the AL East, thanks to a surprisingly strong showing from the pitching staff. Even when David Price went down, Boston somehow found a capable replacement — Doug Fister. Over the Monster's Matt Collins examines the right-hander's pitching this year, and he seems to have found out the secret.
  • Earlier in the year, it looked like Justin Verlander might be done. But the Tigers ace has returned to form in the second half — as he usually does. Bless You Boys' Brandon Day tries to find out why Verlander gets stronger down the stretch.
  • Can the Mariners win the second AL Wild Card spot? Well, someone has to. And right now, they have a pretty good shot at it, even after the Orioles swept them out of Baltimore. Lookout Landing's Kate Preusser breaks down the playoff odds for the remaining contenders.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Kenta Maeda (3.78 projected ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (3.01 projected ERA)

In the 2015-16 offseason, Arizona inked Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract, making him the richest pitcher ever (for now, at least). While year one had some bumps — Greinke’s ERA and FIP were near the NL average, which doesn’t warrant a $34.4 million salary — he’s returned to form in year two. His strikeout rate has spiked, and with a low walk rate in tow, that’s returned him to acedom.

The Dodgers let Greinke sign with the Diamondbacks in large part because they had a capable replacement in Maeda. The Japanese right-hander is also in his second season with his team, but unlike Greinke, Maeda has regressed in 2017 — his ground ball rate has dropped, which has given him some problems with the long ball. Still, Maeda is a high-strikeout pitcher with good control, like Greinke. This should be another low-scoring affair between two NL West powerhouses.