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Launch angles — September 19, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-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

Aaron Altherr belts a grand slam off Clayton Kershaw — .532 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

As the Phillies look back on their miserable 2017 — they’ve piled up 91 losses this year, equaling their total from last season with 12 games still to go — they’ll likely place the blame on the young players who have regressed. My colleague Jeremy Klein noted in July that Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, and Odubel Herrera had, to varying extents, fallen short of expectations, dropping the club from “respectably subpar” to “irredeemably terrible.”

But Philadelphia has had some young hitters blossom this year. While Rhys Hoskins’ blazing start has garnered most of the attention, another slugger has excelled this season. Before last night, Altherr had a batting line of .276/.348/.514 for the season, which translated to a 123 wRC+. That’s pretty good for a guy with virtually no profile entering the season.

Against Clayton Kershaw — who had never before allowed a grand slam — Altherr didn’t want to settle for “pretty good.” Two walks and a single had put Ty Kelly, Freddy Galvis and Hoskins on base for Altherr, who had to face the best pitcher on the planet. Said pitcher worked the count to 1-1, then tried to front-door a breaking ball for strike two:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Altherr has mashed inside pitches this season, and he didn’t disappoint here, sending this slider 418 feet into the second deck at Citizens Bank Park. As you’d expect, such a big hit completely changed the direction of the game:

Image via FanGraphs

The Phillies won’t be this bad forever. They have one of the best farm systems in the game, and as that talent — like Hoskins — graduates to the majors, the team will improve to respectability, if not contention. While Altherr never showed up on any major prospect lists, he’s been a core piece for Philadelphia this year. If he keeps demolishing the best pitchers in MLB, he’ll stick around for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday’s best game score

Jaime Garcia — 72

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 MLB.com

This game wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Garcia was supposed to finish the 2017 season with the Twins, anchoring their rotation and helping them make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. But after trading for him in late July, Minnesota decided it would be better off without him, so he headed to the Bronx.

On Monday night, Garcia got a little revenge on the team for which he pitched one game. He allowed one unearned run over 5 23 innings, striking out nine Twins and not walking any. Garcia’s always been a ground-baller — in this game, seven of the 11 balls in play against him were worm burners — so when he does well with Ks and BBs, the other team tends not to score.

Garcia’s arsenal might be the most balanced in the majors — this season, he’s thrown all five pitches at least 6.5 percent of the time. The Twins got assaulted with four-seamers, two-seamers, sliders, curveballs, and changeups, and in pretty even proportions, too:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Garcia used those offerings efficiently — he required only 85 pitches to record 17 outs. With 57 strikes, 15 called strikes, and 17 whiffs, he was able to both get ahead in the count and put the Twins away once he got there.

Despite dealing away a competent veteran starter, the Twins have a good shot at the playoffs. As I’m writing this, FanGraphs — which don’t include last night’s game — peg their Wild Card chances at 63.6 percent. But that’s for the second spot, meaning they’ll probably have to beat the Yankees in New York to advance to the divisional round. A crafty southpaw would have really come in handy.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Giancarlo Stanton — 455 feet

GIF via MLB.com

As odd as it may sound, this is kind of a surprising dinger from Stanton. Check out where it came in on PitchTrax:

Image via Brooks Baseball

And check out Stanton’s power heatmap from before this game:

Image via Brooks Baseball

He’d been crushing the ball everywhere in the strike zone — except for up and in. Then again, he’s Giancarlo Stanton, so he can hit anything anywhere, especially when he’s ahead 1-0 with two men on base.

On the flip side of this: Man, things have gotten super rough for Matt Harvey. His velocity hasn’t returned, despite his patience following thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The walks are up, the strikeouts are down, and, oh yeah, he’s given up a lot of moonshots like this one. Really, the whole thing is just sad. The Dark Knight is looking more like the Adam West Batman these days. [Editor’s note: West’s Batman was a magnificently camp portrayal, a true cinematic classic. This is the last straw, Romano.]

SABRy tidbits

  • Mike Trout has now spent six full seasons in the majors. In that time, he’s already accrued more Baseball-Reference WAR (54.7) than any other player in Angels history. No, really! Grant Brisbee fawns over the 26-year-old’s most recent amazing accomplishment.
  • Amid the horror show that is the 2017 Mariners rotation, Andrew Moore has been surprisingly not awful — especially as of late. In his last three outings, the right-hander has a 3.24 ERA and 3.94 FIP. Lookout Landing’s Kate Preusser likes what she sees from the rookie.
  • A boatload of Red Sox hitters have underperformed this year, but Brock Holt’s meltdown might be the most stark. After slashing a respectable .274/.335/.381 from 2014 to 2016, he’s plummeted to .189/.296/.230 in 2017. With the infield depth Boston has, Over the Monster’s Matt Collins thinks it’s time to give up on Holt.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Yu Darvish (3.67 projected ERA) vs. Aaron Nola (3.68 projected ERA)

The Dodgers had a stacked pitching staff early in the year, but Kershaw’s midseason injury prompted them to trade for Darvish. The Japanese righty has had some hiccups on the West Coast, though — through seven starts in Dodger blue, his ERA and FIP are 4.34 and 4.15, respectively. Having allowed a career-worst 27 home runs this season, he’ll do his best to keep Altherr and co. in the yard.

While Nola doesn’t have Darvish’s reputation, he’s been the superior pitcher this year by pretty much any measure. Thanks to a lower BABIP and a higher strand rate, the budding ace ranks 22nd in the majors with a 3.60 ERA. Like Darvish, he’s a power pitcher with good control, which spells trouble for the offenses on both sides. Game two in this Dodgers-Phillies series might not have as much scoring as the opener.


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.