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Launch angles — September 2, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/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 ties it at one — +.314 WPA

MLB.com

This looks like a pretty innocuous play — a bloop single to right, scoring one — and even contextually, it’s not that impactful. True, it was the ninth inning, and Jorge Alfaro’s single tied the game and put the Phillies in a great position to take the lead. But as far as biggest plays of the night go, this one is pretty minor; just eight days of the season haven’t had any plays that caused a bigger WPA swing than this one. Perhaps you’re feeling a bit underwhelmed.

But it was part of a much larger comeback on the part of the Phillies, covering more than 60 points of WPA. The Marlins went quietly in the bottom of the 8th, but they sent out Brad Ziegler for the top of the 9th with a 1–0 lead and win probability of 84.1 percent. But Maikel Franco led off with a double, then moved to third on a Nick Williams groundout. Pedro Florimon worked a walk, and the scene was set for Alfaro’s single. Andrés Blanco followed the single with the rare positive-WPA groundout, avoiding the double play and the strikeout and driving in Florimon, putting the Marlins into the lead and giving them win probability of 83.2 percent.

The 24-year-old Alfaro hasn’t been having a great season, running a 79 wRC+ across 350 PAs at AAA. Since his call-up to the big leagues at the beginning of August, however, he’s the proud owner of a 112 wRC+. Whether that’s sustainable is another question entirely; lots of his hits seem to be of the variety shown above, where its more about the ball falling into the right spot on the field than any solid contact on Alfaro’s part. (That’s how you get a .485 BABIP.) He’s still got plenty of prospect sheen, driven by his enormous raw power, but his scuffling is par for the course in the Phillies’ disappointing 2017. At least they got the win in this game.

Yesterday’s best game score

John Lackey/Jimmy Nelson — 81

MLB.com
MLB.com

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.

Because ties are BORING and NOT REAL THINGS, my approach whenever two pitchers have equal game scores is to figure out which one is actually better, based on important subjective factors like “my gut.” It shouldn’t be too hard in this case, as Lackey and Nelson had vastly different performances, despite their identical game scores. Both went seven shutout innings, and both allowed three hits, but while Lackey had no walks and five strikeouts, Nelson walked three but struck out 11.

The Cubs defense has not been quite as outstanding this season as it was last year, when it made even the most pedestrian of groundballers look like aces. But it’s been good — it ranks third in MLB by FanGraphs’ DEF, and fourth by Baseball Prospectus’s PADE (their respective versions of team-wide defensive measurements) — and Lackey leaned on it hard last night. Sixteen of the nineteen balls the Braves put into play were converted into outs, and that’s not all thanks to Lackey controlling the quality of contact; Ian Happ ran down a couple of hard-hit line drives that could’ve given lesser defenders some issues. It was still a great afternoon for Lackey; I’m just a bit skeptical of pitchers who succeed by putting the ball in play and getting good results.

Baseball Savant

That’s why I’m far more impressed by Nelson’s 11 strikeouts, even with the three walks he allowed. The Brewers righty didn’t benefit from his team’s defensive prowess at all; three of the four batted balls he allowed that went to the outfield turned into hits, and the fourth was an easy pop-up.

Baseball Savant

He followed a simple and effective pattern last night: pound the zone with his heavy sinker, getting grounders when the Nats hitters did make contact. When they take some strikes or whiff a couple times, move to the diving slider or the high fourseamer, and get chases and whiffs. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but last night, Nelson had the stuff to do both.

Baseball Savant

The Cubs and Brewers are locked in conflict this year; even when they’re not playing, they’re meeting (if only in our recap). The Brewers took this very important matchup, but with both teams winning last night, the NL Central standings remain unchanged. Milwaukee sits 3.5 games back of Chicago, with 27 and 28 games still to play, respectively.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Shin-Soo Choo — 447 feet

MLB.com

Shin-Soo Choo is not who he once was. The season before he hit free agency, he ran a 150 wRC+, with 21 homers and a 15.7 percent walk rate, and the timing worked out well for him, as he snagged a seven-year, $130-million contract with the Rangers. His offense has declined pretty sharply since then, but he can still do some occasional damage, as he demonstrated last night. This was a blast, leaving his bat at 108mph and clearing that center field wall in a hurry.

Of course, I should mention that the degree of difficulty on this dinger was perhaps not as high as some others. This is not a great place to throw a 96mph fastball:

That’s true of every batter in MLB, almost certainly, but it’s especially true of Choo:

This is from the catcher’s perspective, so mentally flip this around so that the pitch to Choo lines up just about perfectly with the big red spot in the heat map.

Of course, pitchers throw fastballs right down the middle all the time, and it works out just fine; pitchers have to be unpredictable to succeed, and sometimes it’s just worth the risk to guarantee yourself a strike. But this was not one of those times.

Keynan Middleton is a rookie reliever for the Angels, owner of a 4.47 ERA, 4.73 FIP, and 3.95 DRA across his 46 13 big-league innings. He’s probably going to be fine — with a 24.5 percent strikeout rate and 7.0 percent walk rate, his main problem has been the long ball, and if his DRA is to be believed, that hasn’t been entirely his own fault — but I particularly hope he goes on to have a long and successful career. Otherwise, someday I’m going to remember Keynan Middleton as a small piece of trivia, and know him for nothing more than the grooved fastball that Shin-Soo Choo sent to space.

SABRy tidbits

  • The Tigers sat through the regular trade deadline, but sprang into action at yesterday’s waiver deadline, sending away Justin Verlander and Justin Upton. Kurt Mensching of Bless You Boys has GM Al Avila’s quotes on the rebuild, and they might be a bit worrisome to Tigers fans. When management is calling a rebuild “painful” before it even starts, that might be a sign that they aren’t about to do any of the things that cost money but make it less painful. Detroit might be in for a rough few years.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Max Scherzer (3.09 projected ERA) vs. Brandon Woodruff (4.55 projected ERA)

This is a day with a lot of good pitching matchups. Chris Archer vs. Carlos Rodon, Drew Pomeranz vs. Masahiro Tanaka, even Corey Kluber vs. Jordan Zimmermann or Aaron Nola vs. Dan Straily; any of those might catch your eye and attention. By our method, however, it’s Scherzer/Woodruff that’s tomorrow’s best matchup, and you can probably guess why. Max Scherzer is having himself A Year, and with Clayton Kershaw unlikely to top 180ish innings, he’s looking like an extremely plausible candidate for the NL Cy Young. Woodruff is mildly interesting, but mostly because he’s new to the big leagues and thus a bit of an unknown; once that mystery fades, what’s left is probably not going to be an ace, or even a super-interesting pitcher. That’s okay! You’re not watching this matchup for Woodruff. Go watch Scherzer do his thing; how could that be anything other than sufficient?