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Launch angles — August 5, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

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

Mitch Moreland walks the Red Sox off — +.461 WPA

The Red Sox have played some extremely good games in the past week. Earlier this week, Boston and Cleveland played an incredible game; this game wasn’t quite as up-and-down, but it was still wild, and a lot of crazy stuff went on to put Boston in a position to benefit from this walk-off. The White Sox had nearly taken the lead in the top half of the 11th, with a walk, single, and bunt seeming to load the bases after Heath Hembree tried for the runner at third on the bunt, rather than taking the easy out at first. But replay showed the throw beating Yoan Moncada, taking the inning from bases-loaded, nobody-out to first-and-second, one-out, a huge swing. Then, on the next batter, this happened:

A catcher backpick at second ~ actually worked. ~ As Dennis Eckersley said on the broadcast, that never happens. But it did, and it further stifled the inning for the White Sox, costing them .158 in win probability. They wouldn’t score, and the game would remain tied for Moreland in the bottom half.

The veteran first baseman has been in a hellish slump of late.

For July as a whole, he had a wRC+ of 20, and as you can see from the above graph, his 10-game rolling wRC+ bottomed out at a atrocious -25. But as you can also see above, his fortune has turned around abruptly in the last few days, as he’s gone 5-for-11 with three doubles and two homers in the the first three games of August. We focus a lot on trades around the deadline, and understandably so, but that’s not the only way for teams to upgrade. If there’s a real change Moreland has made, it could provide a huge boost to Boston right when they need it most.

Yesterday’s best game score

Yu Darvish — 84

In Darvish’s last start before the trade deadline (and, as it turned out, his last start in a Rangers uniform), he looked downright bad. He didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, giving up ten runs with two home runs, and it was briefly in vogue to speculate about whether his price at the deadline might be impacted, and whether his pitching abilities might be on the decline. Well, on Monday, the Dodgers answered the former question with a resounding “no,” and last night, Darvish himself answered the latter in much the same way. He threw seven sterling innings, with just three hits, one walk, no runs, and ten strikeouts. If the Dodgers didn’t look like a juggernaut before, they sure do now.

Darvish has a sizeable arsenal, and he uses nearly all of his offerings to good effect. He spread his impressive sixteen whiffs across six distinct pitches last night, with his mid-90s fourseamer doing the most work. The righty threw it more than 30 times and got seven whiffs, primarily when pitched up in the zone (as the above clip demonstrates). But while his other offerings might not carry the load of Darvish’s fastball or curve (the primary offspeed/breaking pitch he throws), his ability to mix things up at any time, against any batter, has significant value. He threw just three changeups last night, a pitch he’s thrown less than two percent of the time for this entire season, but two of those three changeups turned into whiffs by Mets batters. He doesn’t need to use a pitch like that often, but just frequently enough to keep the other team off-balance and on their toes. Darvish did a really, really good job of that last night, and of just about everything else too.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Giancarlo Stanton — 477 feet

There’s only so much analysis one can do of a home run like this, but let’s get it out of the way. Giancarlo Stanton is incredibly strong, and is maturing as a hitter as he ages; his strikeout rate is down nearly five points from his pre-2017 career average. He can hit dingers like nobody else currently in baseball, and we should all be thrilled when he’s healthy and effective. Now, onto the important parts of home run analysis.

FIRST: knuckleballers are a gift that we should all treasure. R.A. Dickey is uniquely a cool human and pitcher, but he also fits into the archetype nicely: pitches until he’s old as hell, alternates between deeply frustrating and completely transcendent, and sometimes throws what is basically a batting practice fastball and is hit like one. I grew up watching Tim Wakefield on the Red Sox, and while he gave up home runs like this not-infrequently, I treasure the experience of watching him, especially in hindsight. Knuckleballers teach you a lot about baseball’s cruelty and transcendence, and the main tool they employ is gigantic dingers.

SECOND: I don’t think I like SunTrust Park. It was off to a bad start, what with the shitty public financing and placement out in the suburbs, but now I’m souring on its basic aesthetics, too. What is this friggin’ tunnel out in center field? It’s ugly, and it’s a huge space that could be used for something cool (trees! a fountain! literally anything!) and instead is just some concrete for a ball to bounce around on. Do better, Atlanta.

THIRD: home run reactions, from both pitcher and catcher, are a source of great joy to me, and this home run featured some good ones. You’ve got Dickey’s head-tilt — an understated expression of acceptance, defeat, and perhaps curiosity at the incredible power of Stanton — and Tyler Flowers’s employment of the classic “just gimme the ball ump, nothing to see here.” What else can you do in the face of a home run like this besides shrug and move on?

SABRy tidbits

  • The Orioles are in the midst of a season that, to a dispassionate observer, is downright fascinating. They led the AL East for April and much of May, collapsed in June, seemed to dither about selling or buying at the deadline, and now are just 3.5 games out of the mixed-up race that is the AL Wild Card. Mark Brown of Camden Chat has a breakdown of the remaining months in the season, and of what needs to go right for things to turn out well for Baltimore. It would be deeply amusing to me if they somehow managed to make the playoffs.
  • There are... a lot of youthful, promising relievers, any of whom could transform into a shutdown late-inning option at a moment’s notice. But BtBSer Ron Wolschleger (in his less important, less prestigious capacity as a contributor at Bless You Boys) thinks Daniel Stumpf of the Tigers is worth paying specific attention to, thanks to a solid slider that could be great if paired with some adequate other offerings.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Félix Hernández (4.11 projected ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (3.85 projected ERA)

Here’s something I don’t like admitting: modern Félix Hernández really bums me out. There is something about an ace in decline — especially at an early age, before it felt like we got the peak years of dominance we were entitled to — that is super depressing. It’s now been almost three years since we got a classic, great Hernández season, and while you can debate to what extent he’s declined, it’s telling that his projections have adjusted. This isn’t the kind of temporary blip that every pitcher runs into, and that spurs debate over the permanence of the decline; we’re past the debate stage.

Whoof. Sorry! This section is usually a little less depressing, given that it’s a look forward to excellent pitching matchups. Danny Duffy provides a bit of good feeling; he’s emerged for the Royals as a legitimate starter over the past couple seasons, and while his 2017 has been different than his 2016 (with success stemming more from home run suppression than from strikeouts), it’s remained very good, and the projections buy into him as a front-line starter. It’s not that Hernández–Duffy won’t be fun or enjoyable; it should be! It’s just easy to think about what could’ve been.