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Launch angles — September 25, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Boston Red Sox v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Kirk Irwin/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

Mookie Betts clears the bases — +.339 WPA

MLB.com

The Red Sox found themselves trailing after an adequate-but-not-great start by Doug Fister and some amazing baserunning shenanigans by Billy Hamilton put the Reds up 4–1. But a pair of walks and a single loaded the bases for Mookie Betts in the 8th, and he promptly unloaded them with this double. The pitch that Betts hit was a meaty slider that caught a bunch of the plate, but he had earned it by hanging tough on the first six pitches of the plate appearance, fouling off several good pitches and identifying and holding up on several borderline balls. His contact was well-placed, too; balls with this launch angle and exit velocity turn into hits 51 percent of the time, per Statcast, and if it was a few degrees further to the left or right, maybe it doesn’t find a hole in the Reds’ outfield.

The most remarkable thing about the “down year” that Betts is having is how good it is. His wRC+ has fallen sharply from last season, from a 137 to a 106, but he’s managed to produce 5.0 WAR with that 106 wRC+. Here’s how that compares to all the players in MLB within a half-win of Betts:

As you can see, Betts has managed to generate value via the non-offensive aspects of his game — baserunning and defense — in a way matched only by the best defensive shortstop of this generation. The double yesterday is what catches the top spot in this recap, but it was the baserunning play that followed it that truly caught my eye.

MLB.com

Mookie Betts is a great player even when he’s not hitting, and that’s pretty incredible. The Red Sox would hold onto their newfound lead, and go on to win 5–4.

Yesterday’s best game score

José Quintana — 96

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.

José Quintana blew through the Brewers yesterday, throwing a complete-game shutout with just three hits, one walk, and ten strikeouts. As the gif above shows, Quintana was following a classic formula—high heat, low breaking stuff—and it worked to perfection. Seven of the twelve whiffs generated by Quintana came on fastballs, and a pair of pop-ups added to the success rate of his high fourseamer.

Baseball Savant

By game score, this was Quintana’s best outing of the year, and just his second dominant outing since joining the Cubs. He also had a start with a game score of 88, after he struck out 12 Orioles over seven innings on July 16, but after that you had to go all the way down to a game score of 69 to find Quintana’s next-best start with the North Siders.

But that’s not to say that Quintana hasn’t been good with the Cubs; rather, this kind of outing has seemed long overdue. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate have both moved in the right direction since he joined the NL, and he’s run an excellent 3.38 FIP in the 80 innings he’s pitched with the Cubs. At this point, he’s probably earned his way into the lead starter role for the Cubs in the playoffs, though issues of seniority and ego might play a role in that decision too. Whatever ends up happening, Quintana has been great, and last night he finally showed what can happen when he’s firing on all cylinders.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Khris Davis — 445 feet

MLB.com

Yesterday, I said the following about Davis:

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.

In hindsight, that comes off a little harsh. Davis is not as good as you might expect a 40-HR hitter to be, but he’s certainly not bad. But rather than leaving an agry comment on the article, or sending some tweets my way, Davis decided to change my mind the wholesome way: through the power of enormous dingers.

Rangers’ starter Martin Perez started Davis with a fastball low in the zone that missed by just a few inches, then got a called strike on a changeup high in the zone. You really don’t see many elevated changeups, so it’s possible that the first one took Davis by surprise, and that’s why he didn’t swing. The second one, though, was not only elevated but right in the middle of the zone, and Davis didn’t hesitate.

Brooks Baseball

I want to take a moment to complain about the Coliseum. There are lots of things wrong with Oakland’s stadium, and the aesthetics of home runs hit inside it is probably way down that list. But this was a huge home run that ended up looking totally mundane (and possibly not even like a home run at all) to the viewers at home. That sucks! A big, out-of-play wall that just bounces balls back onto the field is one of the very worst ways for an outfield to end. Khris Davis deserves nicer words from me, and a nicer park in which to hit his many, many home runs.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jon Lester (3.72 projected ERA) vs. Luke Weaver (3.67 projected ERA)

It is fascinating to see Luke Weaver, 24-year-old with fewer than 90 career innings under his belt, get a better projection than Jon Lester. Lester has taken a step backward this season, allowing more walks and home runs than he has in the past, but it’s still striking when the youth movement is this aggressive. Weaver made eight starts in the big leagues last season, along with one relief appearance, but stumbled his way to a 4.33 FIP/5.70 ERA. This season, in eight starts and three relief appearances, he’s run an outstanding 2.36 FIP/2.05 ERA. As a starter, Weaver has struck out nearly a third of opposing batters, and run just a 4.3 percent walk rate. That almost assuredly isn’t sustainable—in his minor league career, Weaver never struck out more than 28 percent of opponents—but it’s really good, and the fact that he’s kept it up for as long as he has suggests that there’s a good pitcher underneath whatever good luck Weaver may be benefitting from. You can decide for yourself tonight; the Cubs and Cardinals face off at 8:15pm EST.