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Launch angles — August 7, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-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

Alex Bregman ties things up for the Astros — +.525 WPA

GIF via

2017 has been a pretty rough year for the Blue Jays. They’ve now been the victim of the biggest play seven times this season, tying them with the Angels, Tigers, and Phillies for the most in baseball. By contrast, this has been a phenomenal year for the Astros, who make their sixth appearance on the winning side of the biggest play; only the Dodgers (nine), the Giants (seven), and the Athletics (seven) have been here more often.

This game didn’t look like a Houston victory, though. Toronto rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh — former Astros legend Nori Aoki hit a two-run homer and Justin Smoak walloped a two-run double — and pulled ahead 6-3. After Marcus Stroman and Dominic Leone kept the lead at three, Roberto Osuna came in for the ninth. With a 2.13 ERA and 1.14 FIP since a rough April, the righty was back on track and ready for the save.

But the Astros, as is their wont, didn’t go quietly into the night. Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez hit singles to load the bases. While Osuna fanned Josh Reddick and got Carlos Beltran to ground into a fielder’s choice, he couldn’t prevent a run from scoring, making the advantage 6-4 with two outs.

When Alex Bregman stepped to the plate, Houston had a 9.4 percent chance of winning. That all changed with one pitch:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Offering at a middle-in slider — an area and a pitch that has given Bregman some trouble — he laced a two-run triple into the center-left gap, with Beltran beating the throw home to knot the score at six runs apiece. Juan Centeno’s walk-off single was just the icing on the cake.

Late-inning rallies aren’t the only reason the Astros have the AL’s best record, nor are bullpen meltdowns the sole cause for the Blue Jays’ spot in the AL East cellar. But each team has had plenty of highlights and lowlights, respectively, with Sunday’s dramatic ninth just the latest installment.

Yesterday’s best game score

Hyun-Jin Ryu — 88

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

GIF via

In his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery, Hyun-Jin Ryu hadn’t quite returned to form. He brought a 3.83 ERA and 4.59 FIP into this contest — not bad, yet much worse than his 3.17 ERA and 2.97 FIP pre-surgery. But in his last time out, he blanked the Giants over seven frames, and he topped that effort on Sunday with seven sterling innings against the Mets.

Despite its miserable season overall, New York has hit pretty well this year, especially against lefties: The team came into this game with the seventh-best wRC+ off southpaws in MLB. Ryu wasn’t fazed, though; he allowed just one hit and no walks while collecting eight strikeouts. It was amazingly not the best start of his MLB career — back on May 28, 2013, he twirled a two-hit shutout against the Angels — but it still stood out as one of the best games for any starter this season.

Ryu leans on four primary pitches — a four-seam fastball, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup — and all four were working for him. He picked up 16 called strikes and 15 swinging strikes out of his 96 pitches, by painting the corners…

Image via Baseball Savant

…and working out of the zone when necessary:

Image via Baseball Savant

This outing shaved 30 points off Ryu’s ERA and 28 points off his FIP, which are now at 3.53 and 4.31, respectively. The Dodgers have become a juggernaut without Ryu pitching like he’s capable of; if this is a sign of him getting back to where he was before TJS, they could get even better.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Nelson Cruz — 465 feet

GIF via

Sometimes as I’m preparing the day’s Launch Angles recap, looking through the numbers to sift out the highlights, I’ll get a premonition. While I was scrutinizing the FanGraphs game log for the first half of Sunday’s Mariners-Royals doubleheader, I stumbled across this entry:

Image via FanGraphs (duh)

Maybe it’s because Scott Alexander is a lefty, and Nelson Cruz has always mashed southpaws. Maybe it’s because Cruz has hit 151 homers since 2014, the most in the majors. Something about this line in the game log had my saber senses tingling, and sure enough, it took home the top spot.

This wasn’t just any moonshot, either. As the GIF above indicates, it’s the longest home run for the Mariners this season; according to’s leaderboard, it’s also the 25th-longest long ball for any hitter in 2017. Lorenzo Cain’s reaction in center field makes a lot of sense — this ball is way, way outta here.

Because Nelson Cruz is awesome, let’s end with one more slow-motion GIF:

GIF via

Somehow, this is the first time he’s appeared in this section of Launch Angles. But he’s been hitting the snot out of the ball all season, as per usual — his wRC+ now sits at a fearsome 136. After signing him to a four-year, $58 million contract when he was 34 and one year removed from a PED suspension, the Mariners somehow got more than their money’s worth from Cruz. Who’d have thought?

SABRy tidbits

  • After his monster cup of coffee in 2016, Gary Sanchez has done pretty well for himself in 2017 — he’s slashing .265/.339/.488 for a 119 wRC+ in 327 plate appearances. But hitting is only half the game, and Sanchez has struggled on the other side of the ball. Pinstripe Alley’s Tyler Norton thinks the team needs to be patient with the Kraken’s defense.
  • Jerad Eickhoff has fallen off a cliff this year — his ERA is up, and so is his xFIP, thanks to a spike in walk rate and a lot more hard contact. Another, more subtle factor has worked against him, though: He’s allowed 12 stolen bases on the year, with only two caught stealings (and just one pickoff). The Good Phight’s Ethan Witte suspects it’s becoming a serious problem for Eickhoff.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Chris O’Grady (4.59 projected ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (3.09 projected ERA)

Mad Max is slated to take the hill today, barring no further neck spasms. Really, it’s pretty incredible that despite leaving before the second inning of his last outing against the Marlins, he’s still averaging nearly 6 23 frames per start. With Clayton Kershaw sidelined for a while, Scherzer’s 2.21 ERA and 2.83 FIP make him the favorite to win the NL Cy Young.

But, of course, there are two sides to this matchup. And O’Grady might not be that bad of a pitcher — while he’s a 27-year-old rookie with a 5.40 ERA in 25 innings, he excelled at Triple-A New Orleans. He has a four-pitch repertoire and he gets a ton of popups, which is all you can ask from a lefty who throws 88. Even though Scherzer is the favorite in this duel, don’t be surprised if O’Grady turns in a solid effort.

Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.