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Launch angles — September 17, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Oakland Athletics v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Corey Perrine/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

Jorge Alfaro puts the Phillies on top — +.293

I would forgive you if you didn’t watch this game. The A’s and Phillies are both way out of their respective divisions, having been eliminated for all practical purposes back in June or so. This game featured a rain delay of nearly two hours, and if they had just cancelled it instead of waiting for the weather to clear up, it probably would’ve been fine. So perhaps this Alfaro home run is a lesson: even the least of games have something to offer.

A Matt Olson home run (cough) had put the A’s up early, but after the rain delay, the Phillies had strung together some hits to tie the game at 2. It was that tie that Alfaro broke, turning around a Simon Castro fastball over the heart of the plate and putting Philadelphia on top for good.

Since being called up at the end of August, Alfaro has put together a very nice string of 87 PAs, hitting .317/.356/.488, good for a 120 wRC+. His K/BB ratio is borderline horrific—a 31.0 percent rate for the former, a 2.3 percent rate for the latter—but he’s displayed good power, with four home runs and another two doubles. Watching the Phillies is interesting in a long-term sense, too, since they’re at the point where you expect them to be moving out of their rebuild and into contention. Whether they turn that corner as anticipated is of course unsettled, but players like Alfaro are who their future relies on. Last night, he made that future look a bit brighter.

Yesterday’s best game score

Zack Greinke — 90

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.

Greinke carved through the Giants yesterday, shutting them out over eight innings with just two hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts. (He also had a pair of doubles off opposing pitcher Madison Bumgarner, which is pretty badass.) And it’s not as if he leaned all that heavily on his defense to limit the Giant to those two hits; just four batted balls made it to the outfield, and his eight strikeouts were augmented by a pair of pop-ups.

Baseball Savant

In the midst of a rebound year, this was Greinke’s fourth time with the best start of a night. He’s undergone a career revitalization in many ways, and is striking out more batters than he has in any season since 2011 (when he was still with the Brewers). The Diamondbacks lead the NL in pitching fWAR (and trail only Cleveland leaguewide), and Greinke leads the Diamondbacks. It’s hard to imagine what this year would’ve been like for Arizona if the intense righthander hadn’t found his form again.

Greinke’s huge contract has another four years and nearly $140 million remaining on it after 2017. Of course, if the Diamondbacks make any kind of deep playoff run this season, and especially if Greinke features heavily in that run, the remaining money will feel of little importance. But even if the DBacks don’t get their money’s worth immediately, it’s not hard to imagine Greinke aging gracefully, and looking like he was worth every penny. As starts like this one show, he’s still got the raw talent and focus, and I certainly wouldn’t bet against him keeping it for a while.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Josh Donaldson — 447 feet

I have sat in that section at Target Field. That’s a long way from home plate! But Donaldson cranked this ball out like it was nothing, and on a pitch that was nearly at his shoulders, too. This was Adalberto Mejia’s eighth pitch of the game, and really, it’s hard to say he did that much wrong. The shtick that is always repeated about high fastballs is that they get lots of whiffs and pop-ups if they’re high enough, but as soon as they go just a little too low, they’re really easy to hit a dinger off of. But usually “a little too low” means something other than four feet off the ground. Not against Josh Donaldson, apparently.

Brooks Baseball

While Toronto has found itself scuffling this season, Donaldson has maintained his level of incredible offensive production for the most part. His 146 wRC+ is a step back from the heights of 2015 and 2016 (when he had wRC+s of 154 and 155 respectively), but it still puts him among the top 15 batters leaguewide. Much of the hit to his value has come via a decline in his defensive metrics, so it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which those numbers rebound or stay low. He’s yet another player who will be a free agent after the 2018 season, and so far, he’s looking eager for his first big payday.

SABRy tidbits

  • Merritt Rohfling is great, which is why Let’s Go Tribe and Beyond the Box Score have frequent fights over who gets to claim him as their own. At what is assuredly his second-favorite site, Merritt shows where Cleveland’s offense excels above all others, and what those comparative advantages do for the team as a whole.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Danny Duffy (3.84 projected ERA) vs. Corey Kluber (3.11 projected ERA)

The Klubot’s presence here is no surprise; he’s great, and in the midst of a late Cy Young push (that we possibly should’ve seen coming). He’s a frequent guest in this part of the recap; nothing notable there. Danny Duffy is not a name we see as often, though he’s certainly deserving. He’s coming off a stint on the DL that lasted a little less than a month, and the Royals are certainly happy to have him, as he’s been their best starter by a significant margin. At 73–75, KC is probably out of reach of a Wild Card slot, but aren’t you going to want to say you watched the game that started their miracle comeback?