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Launch angles — August 8, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Baltimore Orioles 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

Manny Machado clears the bases — +.407 WPA

JC Ramirez had almost made it. He was two outs into the seventh when Machado came to the plate, and though he’d just loaded the bases with a pair of singles and a HBP, he was just one out away from a very successful night. But Manny Machado is not a normal out, and he punished Mike Scioscia for the choice not to go to the bullpen for the Orioles’ fourth circuit through the order. Take a close game, throw in a two-out grand slam, and you’ve got a play responsible for a huge WPA swing, and eventually, the game.

The studies I’m aware of that look at the times through the order penalty and the arsenal the starter has at his disposal were inconclusive. But it’s notable that Ramirez was nearly a two-pitch pitcher last night, relying almost entirely on his fastball and slider and throwing his curveball just six times. And in this fateful Machado PA, he sure looked like he could use another offering. Ramirez threw Machado two sliders — a pitch he had already seen five times prior in prior PAs — and while the first missed the zone, the second didn’t, and Machado took it deep.

But let’s give Ramirez some credit: this pitch was in a pretty good location, and it was an impressive piece of hitting on Machado’s part to somehow get enough force on it to drive it out. Breaking balls low and away are a standard, difficult offering, and while this one perhaps caught more of the zone than Ramirez intended:

it still ended up in an area where Machado struggles with breaking balls:

Ultimately, Ramirez probably should’ve been pulled a few batters earlier, but a batter like Machado is just going to beat you every once in a while, and there’s only so much you can do about that. Don’t look now, but after a subpar first half to the season (91 wRC+), the Orioles superstar has regained his form in July and August, with a 142 wRC+ in the second half bringing his season-long line to 103.

Yesterday’s best game score

Trevor Williams — 81

Trevor Williams might not be a name you’re familiar with. The best-known youthful Pirates starter is probably Jameson Taillon, in the midst of a solid sophomore effort, or the promising Tyler Glasnow, who has struggled to make the jump to the majors but has been hyped for years on the back of his good velocity and incredible curveball. Williams has been overshadowed somewhat by his peers in the Pirates system, and his skillset — lots of sinkers, lots of groundballs, not that many whiffs — is of the sort that scouts tend to overlook in the minors, especially when it’s not paired with excellent control (something Williams has struggled with in the past). So it’s understandable if you don’t know a ton about Trevor Williams.

But last night, he showed why you might want to educate yourself, throwing seven shutout innings against the Tigers, allowing just one hit and two walks against his five strikeouts. It’s easy to be dismissive of starts with a lot of balls in play that turn into outs as the product of luck more than skill, but Williams was controlling all his pitches last night, and deserves a lot of the credit for the weak contact he generated. When the Tigers hitters did get their bats on a pitch, it was a pitch low in the zone, where contact is less threatening than normal:

Balls in play that didn’t turn into outs are included in this chart too, but there was just one on the night, and Statcast failed to track it.

And when Williams needed a whiff, he could get one. He threw all five of his pitches last night, with at least one whiff on all of them but the curveball. As shown in the above gif of his strikeouts, the slider spotted on one of the lower corners of the zone was a deadly pitch for the Pirates righty, but it was certainly helped by the awareness the opposing hitters had to have of his fastball, curveball, and sinker. It was a great night by the young righty, and a promising glimpse of his potential. If the Pirates are going to transition into their next competitive window (without totally overhauling their identity as a low-spending team), they’ll need young players like Williams to hit their upside. Last night was a promising step in that direction.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Keon Broxton — 431 feet

Broxton probably wasn’t a popular bet in the office Launch Angles pool that I’m sure each and every person reading this is running at their workplace. He didn’t display much power in the minors, and while his major-league tenure has been pretty confusing, his overall profile is still that of a speedy outfielder, not the type of player usually known for huge dingers. But after running an ISO of .164 for his combined minor-league career, Broxton hit nine home runs en route to a .188 ISO last season, and this home run boosted his 2017 ISO to .213. He still hasn’t figured everything out — his wRC+ this season is 87, a step back from last year’s 108 — but if Broxton can make a bit more contact without sacrificing the power abilities he’s displayed, there’s the potential for a very good player here.

Because, I mean, look at that home run! 431 feet is pretty standard for the longest home run of the night — the average this season is just under 440 feet — and if you can do that while stealing some bases and playing a decent center field, you’ll be a very valuable player. If you want to be pessimistic, you can note that this isn’t a great pitch from Santana — sliders aren’t usually meant to catch quite so much of the plate as this one did — but if you want to swing back to optimism, you can note that sliders are the pitch type that have bedeviled Broxton most in his major-league career.

And if you just want to enjoy this big home run for being a big home run, you can do that too! Target Field is a very nice park, in my opinion; that upper-deck is an enjoyable place to watch a game from, and having a benchmark for impressive home runs (and, in the form of the upper-upper-deck above it, a benchmark for super-impressive home runs) is a valuable thing. Broxton hit this ball a long way! Wow!

SABRy tidbits

  • The Braves kicked the season off by increasing their payroll, bringing on R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, and others to ensure that their first year in Sun Trust Park might produce some excitement, if not yield a playoff berth. Recent moves have reversed that trend (notably, Atlanta’s refusal to eat any of Jaime Garcia’s salary in order to get a better prospect from Minnesota), and Eric Cole of Talking Chop is wondering if it’s because they’re trying to save money for future free agents (good!) or to save money to line ownership’s pockets (bad!).
  • After a white-hot start to the season, the recently traded Yonder Alonso has struggled mightily in recent months, as Ryan noted in our write-up of the swap. Jake Mailhot of Lookout Landing has identified a possible culprit, and it’s the same thing that launched Alonso to excellence in the first place — his fly ball rate.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Austin Pruitt (4.11 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.90 projected ERA)

Let’s talk about Austin Pruitt, since I’ve talked enough about Chris Sale in this space to last a season and a half. Not that it hasn’t been deserved or anything; Sale is so, so, so, so good, good enough that he appears here basically every five days, regardless of who he’s facing, because a projected ERA below 3.00 is just so far below the norm. He’s great. I guess this counts as talking about Sale, but anyways, let’s move on to the less-known factor in this matchup.

Pruitt, at 27, is an old rookie in his first season with the Rays. He’s thrown 47 innings, with 17 appearances in relief and just three as a starter (and the first one was just a spot start, where he went three innings before being pulled). After a rough outing against the Yankees, he threw 6 13 shutout innings against the Astros last week, with three Ks, one BB, and five hits. Every young starter is at least a little interesting, and Pruitt has the potential to be a name you know in the future; the Rays have deliberately used him as a swingman, with lots of multi-inning relief appearances, and he could be the forerunner of a new kind of reliever/starter hybrid. Or he could be a not-very-good non-prospect. Watch tonight and find out!