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Launch angles — September 21, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/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

Adam Frazier sends the Pirates home happy — +.439 WPA

MLB.com

Nothing like a good, clean walk-off dinger. Pittsburgh led for much of this game, thanks to three runs scored off Aaron Wilkerson — the Milwaukee farmhand making the first big-league start of his career — but after he was pulled with just one out in the 3rd, the Brewers’ bullpen kept the game close. The score stayed at 3–2 until the 7th, when an Eric Thames double tied it and a bases-loaded walk of Stephen Vogt gave the Brewers a 4–3 lead. A fielding error by Corey Knebel would let Andrew McCutchen score from second in the 8th, and a quiet top of the 9th would bring Adam Frazier to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with the score tied at 4.

Frazier is an interesting player, who you may be somewhat familiar with thanks to the fascination with him borne by Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs. Frazier has the sorts of traits that Cistulli seems to love in players — a young, unrecognized player whose strikeout and walk rates are surprisingly similar (8.2 percent versus 12.2 percent) and who possesses a very strong hit tool —but those traits are also sufficient to make Frazier into a valuable and useful player. In his 586 big-league PAs, Frazier has a respectable 2.0 fWAR, thanks to good defense and hitting that’s a hair above league-average. What Frazier hasn’t displayed, however, is prodigious power, with just seven career home runs prior to last night.

And Frazier appears to have gotten pretty lucky with this home run, as well. With an exit speed of 95mph and a launch angle of 27 degrees, similar batted balls turn into hits just 29 percent of the time. You can almost see in the gif the way this ball seems to catch a favorable wind and just keep carrying. The score doesn’t care about hit probability or favorable wins, however, and really neither should Adam Frazier. When you just hit your eighth career home run (and for a walkoff, no less), you don’t quibble about how.

Yesterday’s best game score

Chris Sale — 93

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.

Back in July, our own Shawn Brody wrote about the possibility that Sale would strike out 300 batters in 2017. He noted the following:

“[O]nly two projections are favorable.... FanGraphs’ depth charts and PECOTA’s 90th percentile projections both peg Sale to finish either at or above 300.

[...]

[S]hould [Sale] return to something closer to [his] normal talent level... he’d still cut it incredibly close to finish the season.”

Luckily for the whole baseball world, Chris Sale has not returned to his normal talent level. He’s continued to pitch like someone with something to prove, and his 36.3 percent strikeout rate is just incredible. The capstone of his incredible start last night — eight innings, 111 pitches, thirteen strikeouts, no walks, four hits, and no runs — was strikeout number thirteen on the night, and number 300 on the season.

The gif makes clear the futility of resistance when Sale is on. Seventeen whiffs is a ton, but when that’s combined with a strike rate of 69 percent, what are batters supposed to do? Swinging doesn’t work, and neither does taking. That doesn’t leave much! Especially filthy was Sale’s sweeping slider, a curveball-like pitch that garnered nine whiffs last night but also finished inside the strike zone more than 60 percent of the time.

There’s been some consternation around Sale of late, as he’s had a few poor starts (by his standards) over the last few weeks. It’s entirely possible that he is starting to feel fatigued, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Red Sox rest him more than usual as they progress toward the playoffs. But let’s not forget one of the most important things about Sale’s 2017: not only has he performed at a level we’ve only seen from one or two pitchers in the last decade, he’s done so consistently for more than 200 innings. His longevity and health this year are just as amazing as the heights of his talent, and we’re lucky to be able to watch him do his thing.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

TIE: Gary Sánchez/Freddie Freeman — 439 feet

MLB.com
MLB.com

I believe this is our first tie in the home run category. We’ve had lots of ties in the best game score of a night, and my approach has been to break the tie using all-important subjective factors, like “which outing was cooler?”. Let’s do the same with these two home runs, and figure out who really deserves this slot.

The degree of difficulty was not very high on either of these blasts. Sánchez had worked the count to 2–1 after laying off a pair of borderline pitches from Bartolo Colón, and Colón responded with a grooved 83mph slider that didn’t really slide.

Baseball Savant

Freeman faced a somewhat similar situation, though the count was less favorable at 1–1, and Gio González’s changeup was not quite as poorly placed. This chart makes it look better than it was, though; the video clip shows that it picked up a lot of the plate. So this is a wash, with maybe a slight edge to Freeman.

Baseball Savant

Aesthetically, I’ve got to give it to Freeman. Ripping an inside pitch is just more viscerally satisfying to me than a drive to center field, and the respective landing spots — second-deck, inside a bar of some sort, versus in a net just beyond the wall — are also sharply tilted in favor of Freeman.

And finally, each home run made at least one person extremely happy: the old guy who caught it for Freeman’s, and Todd Frazier for Sánchez’s. I do like seeing players bouncing up and down in excitement, but the Braves fan’s joy is pretty fun too, so the edge goes to Freeman here too.

This may go down in history as a tie, but you know the truth: Freddie Freeman is the true home run champion of September 20, 2017. *bangs gavel*

SABRy tidbits

  • Technically, we’re under no obligation to feature every single one of Merritt Rohfling’s pieces for Let’s Go Tribe in this space, but they’re all great, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. In his most recent banger, he digs into Cody Allen’s anomalous year spent as a ground ball pitcher, and tries to figure out why it happened and whether it was on purpose.
  • At Pinstripe Alley, Matt Provenzano makes the bold claim that, after a rough couple months, Aaron Judge has put his slump behind him. He’s certainly re-heated of late, and just in time, too.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Cole Hamels (4.35 projected ERA) vs. James Paxton (3.47 projected ERA)

Preseason, I would’ve believed that these pitchers would be in this space together, and possibly even with these ERAs. I don’t think I would’ve matched the correct pitcher to their ERA, however. The 33-year-old Hamels is in the midst of a frightening dip, striking out just 16.1 percent of opposing batters en route to a 4.75 FIP and 4.57 DRA and generally looking nothing like the excellent pitcher we’re all used to. Paxton, on the other hand, is in the midst of a legit breakout that’s just as surprising. The projections still don’t believe in his ability to match the 2.57 FIP or 2.95 DRA that he’s run so far this season, which surprises me a bit; between 2016 and 2017, Paxton’s most recent 240 innings have been very good. In fact, surprising as they are at first glance, the projections for both of these pitchers are less extreme than I would’ve expected. It’ll be a matchup of old vs. new, and pessimism vs. optimism, tonight in Seattle.