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Launch angles — September 3, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres - Game One Photo by Denis Poroy/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

Yangervis Solarte walks off the afternoon game — +.426

The Padres would go on to take game two of their doubleheader against the Dodgers with some excellent bullpen work and a strong performance against Yu Darvish, but game number one was not looking great for most of the early going. Through six innings, Clayton Richard had given up three runs, while Dodgers spot-starter Brock Stewart had worked around four walks to allow just one run. But over the course of a couple innings, San Diego would fight their way into the lead, culminating in a Wil Myers and Corey Spangenberg single to make it 5–3.

But this was the kind of game where every lead seemed temporary at best, and in the top of the 9th, Brad Hand gave up a two-run shot to Justin Turner that tied the game at five, and took the Padres win probability from 91.1 percent to 55.6 percent. (If not for what came next, that would’ve been the biggest play of the night.)

This was a middle-in fastball that Solarte saw coming, and got a good hold of. It wasn’t the absolute worst pitch from Baez, but it didn’t quite have the velocity or inside positioning to goad Solarte into a pop-up instead of a drive. Even still, this wasn’t the most thunderous home run; at a 97.2mph exit velocity, and a launch angle of 25 degrees, similar batted balls turn into hits just 41 percent of the time, and it travelled only 380 feet. That’s what Baez is telling himself today, at least.

At this point, it feels a little passé to rag on pitcher wins, since almost everyone seems to know how dumb they are. But Brad Hand getting a win for his performance, in which he pitched a single inning, coughed up the two-run lead, and then did nothing else for the rest of the game, is too good not to mention. Maybe pitcher wins are worth keeping around, just as something to laugh at.

Yesterday’s best game score

Lance Lynn — 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.

This contest between the Cardinals and Giants was a legitimate pitching duel, with Lynn and Jeff Samardzija (who owned his own excellent game score of 80) matching each other blow for blow. Lynn went eight shutout innings, allowing one hit, four walks, and striking out four, while Samardzija went seven innings and gave up a run, but on just two hits and two walks, along with nine strikeouts. By game score, Lynn comes out ahead, thanks primarily to the zero he put in the run column; your personal preference might differ.

Lynn pitched like a reliever, almost, with his fastball varieties doing nearly all of his work on the night. He threw his fourseamer a whopping 68 percent of the time, and his two seamer 22 percent of the time. The remaining 10 percent was split between his changeup, cutter, and curveball, none of which he threw more than five times. It worked; he had to rely on his defense a lot, and there were a few warning-track fly balls mixed in with the easy grounders, but he didn’t allow a single batted ball with an exit velocity over 98mph.

This isn’t new for Lynn; in all of 2017, his sinker/fourseam combo has combined to be nearly 80 percent of his repertoire. And it’s not new for it to work in this fashion, either; on the year, his 4.72 FIP looks pedestrian, but his 2.99 ERA looks elite. That gap could be the result of great luck, or it could be the result of a strategy that lets Lynn generate weak contact more often than most and not have to rely on the strikeout. For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’s DRA, which attempts to strip out batted-ball luck from pitchers’ results, puts Lynn at a not-great 4.43, so it might not be him after all. It worked yesterday, though, just like it’s worked all year, so who knows.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

J.D. Martinez — 449 feet

Colorado is, in my opinion, one of the coolest parks to hit dingers in. Responding to the altitude by moving the fences back has its pros and cons — there are fewer home runs, but a ton of triples, and... actually I think that’s just a pro — but it also means that clearing the center field fence by a sizable margin is automatically impressive. The natural features out there give it a Bunyan-esque feel, a feat of strength in the wilderness.

But I don’t mean to give all the credit for this homer to the stadium instead of Martinez. Jon Gray is having himself a good season, and he’s actually managed to keep his homers in check (0.90 HR/9), so it’s not as if he’s an easy mark, either. In this first-inning contest, Gray alternated between fastballs and sliders for the first six pitches of the plate appearance, with Martinez taking a pair of balls and fouling off several excellent pitches right along the edge. Gray kept up the pattern for pitch number seven and went back to a slider; maybe Martinez saw it coming, or maybe it was just the first pitch squarely in a good hitting zone for the righthanded slugger:

Since the trade deadline, the Diamondbacks have distanced themselves from the Rockies substantially. They’re now 5.5 games up ahead of them, and while neither one of them is going to win the NL West, the NL Wild Card race is looking like two people being chased by a bear (in this case, the Brewers). The Diamondbacks don’t need to be faster than the bear; they just need to be faster than the other guy, and thus far, they are safely a few steps ahead of Colorado. FanGraphs still gives the Rockies at 60 percent shot at taking a Wild Card slot, but those numbers fall with every loss, and the Diamondbacks feel more and more secure. This was game two of a three-game series, and the DBacks won game one as well. Game three is this afternoon, and the Rockies will hope to be the ones to do some damage.

SABRy tidbits

  • Masahiro Tanaka’s opt out is at the end of this season, and over at Pinstripe Alley, Tyler Norton makes the case for the Yankees declining to pursue him if he does. I agree that the Yankees don’t need him necessarily, but the question is always what that money will be spent on instead. The Yankees’ budget is lower than it has been for a while; it probably wouldn’t be hard to fit in Tanaka. It’ll be an interesting storyline to track for this offseason.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Chris Sale (2.85 projected ERA) vs. Luis Severino (3.83 projected ERA)

I completely understand if you want to avoid these Red Sox-Yankees slugfests, especially on Sunday nights on ESPN. They frequently turn into four-hour slogs, and the rhetoric around the RIVALRY between these two HISTORIC FRANCHISES gets exhausting quick. But this is a heckuva pitching matchup, between the de facto AL Cy Young favorite since, oh, June?, and a 23-year-old flamethrower in the midst of a breakout season.

Sale is Sale; we’ve talked enough about him in this space, even when he’s matched up against Joe Schmo and his projected 6.00 ERA, for you to know what’s up. But Severino is no joke either, both for his performance and for the excitement of watching that performance. Velocity is fun, and new pitchers are fun; Severino checks both those boxes. My recommendation is that you mute the TV, overlay your radio broadcast of choice if you’re watching on or in New York or Boston (or some music if you’re elsewhere), forget about all the bells and whistles that people will try to add to this matchup, and focus on the two outstanding pitchers.