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Launch angles — September 9, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/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

Boog Powell erases the Astros’ comeback — +.442 WPA

The late innings of this game were tense. Through six, the A’s were down 7–3, with their win probability at one point falling as low as 2.4 percent. But three straight batters reached to start the seventh for Oakland, and Marcus Semien hit a game-tying grand slam, putting the A’s win probability up to 58.5 percent. (When the game-tying grand slam isn’t the biggest play of the night, you know things are gonna get exciting.) Then, in the top of the 9th, old friend of the Athletics Josh Reddick hit an RBI double, putting Houston up by one and sending this game to the bottom of the 9th with the A’s win probability at just 18.8 percent. Powell was the first hitter in the bottom half, and he did just what Oakland was hoping for. A walk and a pair of singles later, and Oakland took home the win, 9–8.

Powell is a well-travelled prospect, heading from Oakland to Tampa to Seattle back to Oakland over his six years in the minors. Power has never been a big part of his game — he had just 15 home runs in all 1,808 of his minor league plate appearances — so it’s notable that this was Powell’s second dinger in just 70 PAs with Oakland. This wasn’t a difficult home run to hit, exactly; Ken Giles is a talented pitcher, but this was a slider hung right in the middle of the plate. On the other hand, Powell pulled this ball a healthy 383 feet, and that takes skill, even with a hung slider.

The 24-year-old lefty has had two stints in the majors, with the Mariners and the A’s; the biggest change in the latter has been his power. Powell had no extra-base hits in 43 PAs with Seattle, and now has five in 70 PAs with Oakland. His offensive leap, from a wRC+ of 50 with the Mariners to a 129 with the Athletics, is almost entirely due to his jump in ISO, from .000 to .145. That latter figure is higher than what Powell put up in all but one season of his minor league career, so assuming that it’s sustainable probably isn’t wise. But if the A’s saw some untapped power potential in him they were able to unlock, it’s already yielding dividends in the form of wins for the big-league club.

Yesterday’s best game score

Mike Clevinger — 71

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 was a short but sweet outing from Clevinger; he went just six innings, but allowed only three hits and three walks, striking out seven and keeping the Orioles off the board. At 71, it has one of the lowest game scores to nonetheless qualify for this part of the recap; there just weren’t many real challengers for Clevinger to deal with last night. And that’s not to say this wasn’t a good outing, either; the lanky righty had an impressive eleven whiffs on the night, with five coming on his curveball (shown above making Jonathan Schoop look foolish).

This was the 16th consecutive win for Cleveland, and obviously a lot needs to go right for that to be even conceivable for a team. Consistency from every one of your starting pitchers is pretty high on that list of requirements, however, and Clevinger has stepped his game at the right time. After frequently ricocheting between excellent and abysmal for much of 2017, his last three outings have had game scores of 75, 74, and 71 respectively. (It’s somewhat amusing to me that only the lowest one of those three made it into this section of the recap.)

If Clevinger can regularly be the pitcher he was last night — controlled, deceptive, and highly effective — Cleveland is going to look like a juggernaut come October. They’ve got Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco on top of the rotation; you need to take advantage of the back end to have any hope of winning a series against this squad. But if the back end is a reliable Mike Clevinger, that task becomes a lot harder.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Nomar Mazara — 453 feet

Remember Nomar Mazara? After exploding out of the gate in his debut season of 2016, he settled into a much more normal pattern of hitting, and ended the year with a 94 wRC+. There’s nothing wrong with that figure, especially coming from a then-21-year-old, but it was a step back from the amazing pace he had displayed at the start of the season, and Mazara quietly seemed to fade out of national attention. It’s useful, therefore, for him to hit the occasional huge home run such as this one, and to remind us that he’s a 22-year-old at a non-negligible defense position who has displayed great power and on-base skills at the major-league level. That’s good! Don’t forget that!

Tanaka was not on his A-game last night, and you can see that he missed his spot badly with this pitch; Sánchez was set up low and away for this sinker, and instead, it drifted inside and failed to sink. When you describe the pitch like that, it’s pretty easy to understand how it got turned around for a 453-foot dinger. Even though the Yankees jumped out to an early lead, Tanaka couldn’t hold on to it, and would end up getting pulled after four-plus innings and seven runs.

Finally, this home run is not only large; it’s beautiful, too, one of the purest approximations of the ideal home run I think we’ve featured in this section of the recap. It’s a smooth, fluid swing from Mazara that transitions seamlessly into a dramatic-but-not-gloating bat drop, and the ball leaps away from his bat and swoops into the second deck in right. We’ve got no way of quantifying beauty, but that makes it all the more important that I write about it. Good job, Nomar Mazara.

SABRy tidbits

  • You would expect the Rockies to be one of the teams at the forefront of the recent fly-ball revolution, given their home park. But Bryan Kilpatrick of Purple Row digs into the numbers, and finds that Colorado is below average in that respect. Whether that’s a bad thing precisely or simply a quirk of their approach is a harder question to answer.
  • Fernando Rodney was real bad in the early going of this season, with a 12.60 ERA/5.54 FIP in April. But over at AZ Snake Pit, Michael McDermott notes that, since the end of that month, he’s held a 2.04 ERA and a 27.8 percent strikeout rate. The Diamondbacks have to start thinking about the postseason, and a reliable Rodney would be a huge asset in a one-game Wild Card playoff and anything that might follow.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Matt Andriese (4.22 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.90 projected ERA)

I feel like, for the first time in a while, I should actually give some context to Chris Sale being the recommended starter to watch in this section. (Really it’s just about him; Matt Andriese is fine, and not much more than that.) Sale has struggled in his last few starts, with three of his last seven outings having game scores under 30. That’s bad! Sale remains quite good, of course, but the consistency and dominance he displayed earlier in the year is perhaps starting to waiver.

That’s not a reason not to watch this matchup, however; if anything, it’s a sign you should pay closer attention. If Sale dominates, then you get to see him blow through a lineup and make fools out of some hitters, and that’s always a good time. If he struggles, that’s not fun in the same way, but it is certainly interesting if you’re a dispassionate observer of this game. We all celebrated Sale’s return to high-velo pitching back in April and May, when he shucked off the White Sox’s limits on his in-game effort and ascended to a new plane of pitching, but we might be seeing the cost of that strategy now.