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Launch angles — September 11, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/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

Rio Ruiz keeps the Braves alive — +.437 WPA

This was a pretty wild game. The Braves were up on the Marlins 5–3 by the 4th inning, and had a win probability around 80 percent. But Miami chipped away, tying the game in the 5th, taking a one-run lead in the 8th, and opening the lead up to three runs in the 9th. Atlanta scored a run and put some men on base, but burned through two outs in the process, putting themselves in a pretty bad position when Ruiz came to the plate.

Ruiz is a 23-year-old call-up for whom 2017 has been his first sustained experience in the bigs. As a fringey prospect who performed decently at AAA this season but has struggled in the majors, he’s exactly the kind of player for whom a big performance in September could meaningfully change how people think of him and view his outlook. He took a fastball from Javy Guerra the other way, and made fellow fringey prospect Brian Anderson look very silly at third base. Once the ball hit the outfield and Ichiro’s 43-year-old arm, the game was guaranteed to be tied. After Arodyz Vizcaino kept Miami off the board for the tenth and eleventh, a Lane Adams dinger sent everyone home, and capped off a rollercoaster of a WPA graph.

This was the second time in this Braves-Marlins series that Miami was victimized by a single in the bottom of the 9th; Kurt Suzuki hit a walk-off single on the 7th off of Brad Ziegler. You can forgive Don Mattingly for looking a little less than pleased about the whole state of affairs.

Yesterday’s best game score

Michael Wacha — 85

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.

Wacha sliced through the Pirates yesterday, throwing eight scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, no walks, and five hits. This was his second-best start of the year by game score, behind only a July complete-game shutout against the Mets, and he looked firmly in control throughout. Wacha’s changeup was particularly deadly, racking up five whiffs and often putting the nail in the coffin of a two-strike count. Batters were unable to distinguish the pitch before it darted down and out of the zone, letting Wacha pick up a number of strikes on pitches that carried no risk of solid contact.

Baseball Savant

By one measure, Wacha has found consistency as a totally solid pitcher. Since his debut in 2013, his FIP for a season has never moved outside of a one-run band between 2.92 and 3.92, and FanGraphs’ version of WAR (which is based on FIP) thus views him as a good-but-not-great pitcher, with 2.8 WAR this season. But Baseball Prospectus’s DRA, which seeks to unpack and contextualize every aspect of a pitcher’s performance, thinks Wacha has been much less consistent, falling from a 3.31 DRA in his debut season to a 5.68 DRA last year and a 5.03 DRA this season. He loses most of his value on balls in play, suggesting that his BABIP spike — from the mid-.200s early in his career to .334 in 2016 and .326 in 2017 — might be more the result of hard contact than bad luck.

The Cardinals have to hope that DRA is mistaken. Last night, Wacha allowed a few deep fly balls, as well as four balls to the outfield that were tracked as line drives but nonetheless turned into outs. It’s easy to imagine those kinds of balls causing trouble with anything other than perfect (or perfectly lucky) outfield positioning.

Baseball Savant

With yesterday’s win, the Cardinals closed the gap in the NL Central to just two games, with both themselves and the Brewers breathing down the Cubs’ necks. They’ll need every break they can get if they want to run them down in the remaining 19 games.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 463 feet

Now, one should not overreact to a small number of events. But I want to believe that Judge has recovered fully from his second-half swoon, and this home run (plus a fourth-inning blast he also hit in yesterday’s game) makes that belief feel plausible. After going 15 games without a home run, from August 17 to September 2, Judge has now hit four dingers in his last seven games, starting with September 3.

The big shift that seemed to bedevil Judge in the second-half of the season was a shift in fastball location. Pitchers stopped trying to bust him on the hands as much, and instead moved their fastballs up above the zone.

For a while, Judge hadn’t been able to catch up; he’d gone from making solid, resounding contact with almost every swing to getting under the ball and hitting easy pop-ups.

But you’ll note the decline on the tail end of that graph, and indeed, it seems that Judge may have found a way to counter. The pitch that the large Yankee turned around for this 463-foot dinger was one of those high fourseamers, and Judge had no difficult crushing it.

Brooks Baseball

The fourth-inning homer was less impressive, but in the same vein, coming on a fourseamer that was at least in the top part of the zone, if not as clearly above it as this pitch from Yohander Mendez. The takeaway is clear: it might be time to ready ourselves for an Aaron Judge turnaround. That’s great news; it’s much more fun when the big galoot is crushing baseballs.

SABRy tidbits

  • This is not SABRy, per se, but my goodness Francisco Lindor is a goddamned delight.
  • A’s rookie Matt Chapman has hit surprisingly well in his debut, but the real revelation has been his outstanding defense. At Athletics Nation, Alex Hall has a breakdown of Chapman’s performance with the leather, but he’s also got a bevy of gifs, and that’s really what you’re looking for.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Matt Boyd (4.73 projected ERA) vs. Carlos Carrasco (3.44 projected ERA)

With only eight games tonight, I expected to have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for the matchup that would make this spot. But both Carrasco and Zack Greinke are starting tomorrow night, and both are starting against interesting, if not excellent, opponents. Carrasco/Boyd gets the nod over Greinke/Kyle Freeland, thanks primarily to Boyd’s projection benefitting from his home park being something other than Coors Field.

But you would watch Cleveland play tonight even if they were starting a Quad-A nobody. Their win streak sits at 18; the 2002 Oakland Athletics’ 20-game streak is the only one larger in recent memory. FanGraphs’ live scoreboard gives the Tigers just a 30 percent shot at stopping Cleveland, based on the lineups and opposing pitchers, and I’m inclined to agree; Carlos Carrasco is a force to be reckoned with. History might be in the making! How much more convincing do you need?