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Launch angles — September 14, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins Mark J. Rebilas-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

Eddie Rosario brings extras to a close — +.434 WPA

Once Rosario got a hold of this pitch, the only question was if it would stay fair. Phil Maton had gotten two outs, and needed just one more to send this game to the 11th. But he missed away with his first two pitches, both fastballs, and he needed a strike on number three. Maton threw another fastball, and frankly not a terrible one; for a lot of hitters, and in a lot of situations, this would’ve been good enough.

Brooks Baseball

But Rosario did an outstanding job of anticipating the pitch and getting his hands around in time to make resounding contact. (You might remember some other home runs by Rosario on extreme pitches; it’s certainly a skill to be able to make solid contact throughout the zone, and a skill that he possesses in droves.) The final distance on this dinger was 415 feet.

The Twins left fielder is having a career year at the plate, with a 115 wRC+ that’s nearly 20 points higher than his previous best (from his 2015 rookie year). His power is at the core of that improvement: this was home run number 23 on the year, equal to his combined total from the previous two years, and his .ISO is over .200 for the first time ever. Rosario is one of several guys on the Minnesota squad who have exceeded expectations this year, and helped the team as a whole to exceed expectations as well. With the win, they held on to their two-game lead over the Angels for the second Wild Card slot.

Yesterday’s best game score

Tyler Skaggs — 79

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.

I wonder how many pitchers have the capability to throw, say, a complete game shutout. On the one hand, you’ve got a pitcher like Tyler Skaggs—totally useful and valuable as the fourth or fifth guy in your rotation, but not anybody’s definition of a frontline starter—who, last night, threw seven shutout innings with three hits, one walk, and five strikeouts. If he could do it, I would imagine a lot of the league’s starters could do it. On the other hand, there’s a big difference between seven shutout innings and nine. I I think baseball games are just the right length to help us distinguish the big mass of very good pitchers from the few excellent ones.

But! None of that is to take away from Skaggs, who was very good last night. As the GIF above demonstrates, his two best pitches were his fastball and his curve. Bur rather than working how you may have expected—the former getting the called strikes and ground balls, the latter the whiffs—Skaggs’s fastball was the source of most of his whiffs, and his curveball went for a called strike about a third of the time he threw it. He wasn’t afraid to bend it into the upper part of the zone for a called strike, or to throw it below and induce a chase from the batter.

Baseball Savant

The win kept the Angels from falling any further back against the Twins, and kept their playoff odds at a decent-but-dwindling 25.8 percent. With just a couple of weeks left in the season, the time for the Angels (or anyone else) to make a move is now. They’ll need to get hot to sneak in, and to do that, they’ll need every starter they have to get clicking. This start from Skaggs was a step in the right direction, but it might have come too late.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Mike Zunino — 470 feet

Apparently it’s an AL Wild Card theme day here at Launch Angles, as we’ve now covered the top three teams in the chase for the second Wild Card slot (though frankly the odds of something like this happening aren’t that low, given that literally half the AL is in the mix). I’m not filtering out non-contenders or anything like that, though; Zunino earned this slot all by himself, hitting the 15th-longest dinger of the year with this mammoth blast.

At first, I thought this home run was stranger than it actually was, because it looks a little bit like Zunino golfs this out, reaching out and tagging a pitch that’s way below the strike zone. But he actually made contact right around his knees—

—and it only looks lower because of the movement of Robinson Chirinos’s glove. This was a curveball from Martin Perez, a pitch that was supposed to end up below the zone and instead caught a healthy portion of it. Four out of five dentists agree: curveballs that don’t break are the number one cause of gigantic home runs.

After years of promise and disappointment, Mike Zunino is having himself a legitimate breakout. His 122 wRC+ is the best of his career, and impressive even if you don’t adjust for the defensive value he brings by playing the premium position of catcher. Between last season and this one, he’s put together nearly 600 PAs with a wRC+ of 120 over the span, and we’re approaching the point where this kind of production should be expected rather than a surprise.

SABRy tidbits

  • CarGo has looked pretty much done for most of this season. But he’s always been streaky, and he’s in the midst of an impressive hot streak that, as Hayden Kane of Purple Row shows, couldn’t come at a better time for the Rockies.
  • Matt Lyons of Lets Go Tribe has a great reflection on Cleveland’s 21st consecutive win, “the baseball equivalent of Haley’s Comet.” As he notes, regardless of what happens in the playoffs, we’ve seen something extraordinary this season.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Mike Foltynewicz (4.43 projected ERA) vs. Tanner Roark (4.16 projected ERA)

As you can probably guess, there aren’t any top-of-the-line starters going tonight. The best by projected ERA is (somewhat surprisingly) Cardinals rookie Luke Weaver, but Amir Garrett and his 5.35 projected ERA keep him out of the top spot. That’s not to say that a Foltynewicz-Roark matchup is bad; Roark has had an up-and-down career, but at times he’s demonstrated real skill, and this should be an evenly matched contest between two good, if not great, starters.