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Launch angles — September 24, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/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

Travis Shaw wins it for the Brewers — +.711 WPA

It was not a great day for Joe Maddon. First, he weighed in on the widespread backlash among athletes to Donald Trump’s comments on protests by calling such backlash “dangerous.” He was widely and rightfully dragged for that. Then, he blew this game against the Brewers, via some creative bullpen mismanagement. The Cubs entered the bottom of the 9th with a 2–1 lead, and Maddon tapped Wade Davis to close the game out. That’s a reasonable choice; Davis has been the Cubs’ closer (for whatever that’s worth) and is generally their best reliever. But he promptly gave up a solo shot to Orlando Arcia, tying the game at 2 and sending it to extra innings.

Luckily for the Cubs, they got another run in the top of the 10th. But for the bottom of the 10th, rather than turning to Carl Edwards Jr. or one of the other arms remaining in the bullpen, Maddon sent Davis back out to the mound. Davis got Neil Walker to strike out, but then gave up a double to Ryan Braun. Maddon had made his decision, however, and he wasn’t going to change it. That’s when Travis Shaw came to the plate.

This was an odd pitch to hit a home run on, a curveball up and away, and you can see the hesitancy Shaw feels after making contact. The ball only travelled 375 feet, so you get why he wasn’t celebrating as soon as he made contact. But that just meant Shaw’s celebration was all the more enthusiastic once the ball did clear the fence; his awkward, mid-stride, two-handed high five of first base coach Carlos Subero is a thing of beauty.

Even with this win, the Brewers are 4.5 games back in the NL Central, making catching the Cubs (even with a sweep in this three-game series) extremely unlikely. But with the Rockies losing, it put Milwaukee just one game out of the NL Wild Card, keeping their playoff dreams alive for a while longer.

Yesterday’s best game score

Eduardo Rodríguez — 82

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.

Rodríguez had his stuff working yesterday afternoon, cutting through the Reds lineup over 7 23 innings with six strikeouts, two walks, three hits, and no runs. Driving his success was Rodríguez’s four seam fastball, which garnered twelve whiffs (with his changeup and slider each adding three more).

Baseball Savant

Rodríguez has been an unexpected source of stability in the Red Sox rotation, which was struggled with both injury and general ineffectiveness at times. With this most recent start, E-Rod is up to 135 innings on the season, and his ERA (3.91), FIP (3.87), and DRA (3.51) all agree that he’s been a very valuable starter. His strikeout rate is up more than four percentage points from 2016, and while his walk rate remains high, he’s kept the long-ball under control too.

With his continued success, culminating in this solid start, Rodríguez has likely earned himself a spot in Boston’s playoff rotation. It really looks like they’re going to use David Price out of the bullpen, for a variety of extremely dumb reasons, which sets up Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, and Rodriguez to start for Boston in the playoffs. It’ll be another chance for this young lefty to take a huge step forward in his career, and one I’m sure he relishes.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Khris Davis — 425 feet

It is a sign of the times that a player can hit as many home runs as Khris Davis has, and still be as bad as Khris Davis is. This was his 40th dinger on the season, and he still hasn’t crested two WAR by either FanGraphs’ or BP’s measure. This is a strange new world that we live in, where balls fly farther and someone who doesn’t hit 20 HRs is automatically characterized as a slap hitter.

But it’s unfair to give all credit to the ball. Davis has always been a legitimate power threat, and he deserves a lot of credit for taking his very limited skillset and using it to become a very valuable player. This Miguel González fourseamer was right down the heart of the plate; it didn’t take a juiced ball to crush this for a home run deep into the center-left field bleachers.

One of my very favorite things in baseball, and something I would love to see in person someday, is the flashing Holy Toledo sign that Oakland has out in center field. It is beautiful, and kitschy, and everything the Marlins’ home run statue is trying to be. It celebrates an authentic catchphrase, that of longtime Oakland broadcaster Bill King, and is something I genuinely think is cool. Khris Davis has lit it up more than any other Athletic this season, and he deserves our praise as a result.

SABRy tidbits

  • The Tigers are having to approach a rebuild from scratch for the first time in a very, very long time. At Bless You Boys, Brandon Day has an idea for where they should start: with an extension for third baseman right fielder Nicholas Castellanos. Day thinks his offensive upside combined with his positional uncertainty creates an opportunity for the Tigers to get Castellanos on the cheap, and he may be right.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Max Scherzer (3.15 projected ERA) vs. Jacob deGrom (3.49 projected ERA)

You’ve really got your pick of aces to watch today. Scherzer and deGrom take the top spot because they’re the most evenly matched; deGrom probably isn’t a name that comes up all that often when considering the top tier of pitchers in the majors, but maybe he should. His consistency and health over the past four seasons has been remarkable (especially for a Mets pitcher), and while his identical 3.55 ERA and FIP suggest a pitcher who is merely very good, his 2.70 DRA is that of a true ace.

But if you don’t feel like watching these two for some reason, you might instead be interested in Kluber–Leake or Kershaw–Stratton. And that’s not even touching on the second-tier of excellent starters going on Sunday, like Chris Archer, Lance McCullers, and Jose Quintana. You’ve got choices, is the point.