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Launch angles — September 28, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/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

Mark Canha walks it off for the A’s — +.425 WPA

MLB.com

The A’s were in the lead for most of this game, until a Robinson Canó home run in the 8th tied the score at 5. After a quiet top of the 9th, the Mariners sent out Shae Simmons to keep Oakland quiet and send this game to extras. He got Bruce Maxwell to strike out, but couldn’t get past Mark Canha. Simmons threw two cutters; Canha laid off the first one for a ball, and when the second one found the heart of the strike zone, took it deep and finished off the game.

With this win, the A’s pushed their record since the All-Star break to WHAT, good for a .WHAT winning percentage. As Jim Turvey covered earlier this week, this kind of second-half improvement is not always permanent, and it’s hard to distinguish the blips from the true surges. But there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the A’s right now, and whether or not Mark Canha will be a part of the next great Oakland team, this was a deeply enjoyable game to watch in the moment.

Of course, for some people, this game was painful and cruel rather than enjoyable. Mariners fans have had a heck of a season, and really, a heck of a decade or two. Look at Simmons; look at how he watches this ball. There’s no hope in his eyes, only resignation. It wasn’t unreasonable to think that, maybe, this ball could be caught; it just barely cleared the wall, traveling 380 feet, and you would think that Simmons might express some kind of anticipation as the ball left the bat. But he is a broken man, like so many Mariners and Mariners fans, with nothing more to give to baseball. Resignation is all he has.

Anyway, great job Oakland!

Yesterday’s best game score

Rich Hill — 84

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.

Last night, Rich Hill blew through the Padres lineup like it was a wet paper bag, throwing seven innings with ten strikeouts, two walks, two hits, and no runs. He threw just curveballs and fastballs, as is his wont, and had no problem dispatching San Diego with just those two offerings, garnering an impressive 15 whiffs on his fastball (plus another 3 on the curve). Nor did he benefit from a lot of great fielding behind him; Hill gave up two batted balls that had hit probabilities (as calculated by Statcast, based on launch angle and exit velocity) over 22 percent, and both of them did in fact fall for hits. His other ten balls in play were all cans of corn, and complemented his strikeouts nicely as part of a balanced crushing of San Diego.

The Dodgers are an incredible team, as their 102–57 record should indicate. But one of the ways I can imagine them struggling in the postseason is by not getting enough out of their starting pitching. Their strategy of swapping players in and out of the rotation (with stints on the DL or in the minors mixed in) seems geared more toward those things that result in regular season success—consistency, health, reliability—than those things that result in postseason success—outstanding individual performances, mostly. But if the Dodgers can enter the playoffs with a healthy and talented Rich Hill, along with a healthy and talented Clayton Kershaw, they suddenly have a 1–2 punch at the top of their rotation that only Cleveland (with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco) can even come close to matching.

Now, it might be a little premature to conclude that Rich Hill is in prime postseason form based only on this start; the Padres have the second-worst team wRC+ in all of MLB, and it’s not a lineup full of potent threats, to put it lightly. But this was just Hill’s most recent and most dominant start; he’s putting together a run of consistency at just the right time in the year. In his five starts in September (against the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Nationals (good offensive teams!), Giants, and Padres) he’s thrown 29 innings with 40 strikeouts, 8 walks, and 6 runs. Hill looks ready.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Hanley Ramírez — 451 feet

MLB.com

In this PA, Marco Estrada started Hanley off with three fastballs. Ramírez ripped at the first one, fouling it back, and took the next two for balls, so Estrada understandably moved to something else. A changeup for pitch number 4 earned Estrada a whiff, so he went back to it for pitch number 5. Hanley had corrected his timing after the last whiff, however, and swung at that pitch like Estrada had just thrown a beach ball. With an exit velocity of 108.9mph, this ball was a no-doubter before it even left the infield. On the night, Hanley went 2-for-4, with a double and this impressive home run.

I grew up watching Red Sox games on TV, so I am admittedly biased. But for my money, there are not many cooler ways to hit a home run than by clearing the Green Monster. It’s not just the size, though that is of course a huge part of it; I also love the open sky above it, so that you can easily track the kind of towering blast that has a shot at leaving Fenway Park entirely. This home run captures a lot of what I like about the Monster, and the 450-foot home runs that rocket over it.

Ramírez is not having a great season, or even a good season. He’s struggled with injury and ineffectiveness all year, and indeed, in all three of his seasons with the Red Sox. It can be easy to look at a player in that kind of funk and conclude that they’re just bad at baseball. When Hanley (or any other struggling hitter) smacks this kind of highlight-reel blast, therefore, it’s a useful reminder of the extraordinary talent required to even be “bad” at baseball. I would never be able to do this, not if I had unlimited tries and probably not even if I had a year to train. Each and every ballplayer is a freak, at the very right end of the distribution of skill. The difference between a good MLBer and a bad MLBer is the difference between two degrees of absolutely outstanding.

SABRy tidbits

  • It’s the time of the season when, for those teams that are playoff-bound, winning tonight’s game becomes less important than maximizing your chances of winning next week. For the Red Sox, as Matt Collins notes at Over the Monster, the health of their players is of critical importance, and not something they can take for granted (with several key contributors banged up).
  • Other teams are focused neither on tonight nor next week but this upcoming April, and the 2018 season generally. Over at Royals Review, Max Rieper has a breakdown of who will likely be on the receiving end of a qualifying offer from KC, and a nice explanation of the QO process itself under the new CBA.
  • Home field advantage is almost always a good thing, and we tend to think of it as an unequivocal bonus. But as Jason Cohen notes at Pinstripe Alley, that can change when the home park is as atypical as new Yankee Stadium is. To whit: in 2017, Luis Severino has a 2.24 ERA/2.42 FIP on the road, and a 3.86 ERA/3.77 FIP at home. In case a single-game playoff wasn’t random enough for you, enjoy that added layer of possible wonkiness.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Ervin Santana (4.70 projected ERA) vs. Carlos Carrasco (3.43 projected ERA)

This is not a great night for high-octane pitching matchups, so we’re left with a bit of a mismatch in the top slot. Carlos Carrasco is a legit ace, however, whose reputation is only as small as it is because of his lack of pedigree (and misfortune in sharing a roster with the most advanced pitching android ever designed, Corey Kluber). It doesn’t matter too much who he’s up against; Carrasco is wrapping up his best, most durable season to date, and it would be fine to watch this game only in order to watch him.

But while the projections don’t think highly of Ervin Santana, he’s in the midst of a possible very solid and definitely very interesting year. His 3.36 ERA masks a 4.50 FIP, the product of a low strikeout rate, high walk rate, and low BABIP, but Santana’s respectable 3.68 DRA suggests that he might be able to take some credit for that BABIP. Even if you take the low end, Santana is a respectable starter. If the Twins manage to win the Wild Card game against the Yankees, they’ll likely face Cleveland in the ALDS, making this a preview of a possible playoff matchup. The teams have split the first two games of this three-game set.