Let’s Talk About Ryan Howard

I want to share a leaderboard with you that I can’t stop thinking about. These are the top-five National League first basemen in the second half by wRC+:

Second-Half NL First Basemen wRC+ Leaderboard
Player Team PA wRC+
Joey Votto CIN 154 226
Ryan Howard PHI 66 191
Freddie Freeman ATL 155 179
Adrian Gonzalez LAD 137 149
Paul Goldschmidt ARZ 158 140
Min. 60 PA
Stats through start of play Tuesday 8/23

I cannot fathom a more perfect depiction of the frustratingly beautiful juxtaposition of expected/unexpected outcomes which is so integral to this absurd bat-and-ball game we watch each day. It would be easy to pick Votto, Freeman, Goldschmidt and Gonzalez as top offensive performers among National League first basemen. But Ryan Howard?! That Ryan Howard?!

The thing about Howard is that it’s not as though he snuck onto that leaderboard. He has a 191 wRC+ in the second half! Only four other players in all of MLB have a higher wRC+ since the All-Star break: Votto, Gary Sanchez, J.D. Martinez, and Jose Altuve (min. 60 PA).

What’s more, Ryan Howard’s offensive surge is in true old-school Ryan Howard fashion, which is to say he’s hitting the snot out of the ball. Thanks to a remarkable seven home runs in just 66 plate appearances, he’s posted a .403 ISO and .742 slugging percentage. Of the 294 players with 60 or more plate appearances this half, 142 of them — nearly half! — have a lower OPS than Howard’s SLG%.

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Gary Sanchez Is No Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero is still just 26 years old, and he’s having a pretty decent season at the plate. He’s batting over .300, and he has his OBP close to .350 and his slugging percentage close to .450. All things considered, that’s not a bad campaign. But for the fact that Montero has spent the summer in Triple-A, and he’s split his time between first base and DH. He’s mostly been the DH.

It’s hard to believe now that Montero spent three consecutive years within the Baseball America prospect top-10. Though the pop remains in his bat, there’s pretty much nothing else to speak of, and Montero has stood as a cautionary tale to those who’ve been high on Gary Sanchez. Not only did they rise through the same system — Montero and Sanchez have had similar roles and similar strengths, with similar criticisms and similar questions. They even made similar first impressions. At least for the time being, Montero is there to keep Sanchez fans grounded.

Yet Gary Sanchez is no Jesus Montero. I get that the parallels are many. But the profiles are dramatically different. Sanchez is looking like he can hit. Even more importantly, Sanchez is looking like he can catch.

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The Royals Are Having the Most Royals Month Ever

On July 31st, the Royals were basically dead in the water. On the day before the team had to make a final buy, sold, or hold decision, KC stood at 49-55, 12 games out of first place in the AL Central. They’d been outscored by 59 runs. And to top it off, Wade Davis had to go back on the DL with a flexor strain, signaling that he hadn’t been able to get past the arm problems that had already cost him part of the season. The Royals hadn’t been very good with him in 2016, and now were looking at likely spending the rest of the season without one of the main reasons they’ve been able to win the last few years.

And yet, despite four months of struggles and Davis’ absence, since the calendar flipped over to August, the Royals have been almost unbeatable. They’ve reeled off 16 wins in 21 games, including their last nine, and have breathed some life back into a season that looked to be dead and buried. The graph of their end-of-season expected record tells the story pretty well.

chart (40)

In a season of ups and downs, August has been the biggest up so far, and unsurprisingly, the Royals have been winning games with the same kind of crazy formula that allowed them to make a couple of postseason runs the last two years.

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Video: Trevor Bauer on Managing His Sinker’s Movement

Imagine you’re floating on a raft down a lazy river. It can’t be so hard to imagine, it’s still August. In one hand, naturally, you’ve got an adult soda; the other, you place into the water to check the temperature. Suddenly, you’re headed — slightly but perceptibly — towards the bank on the same side as that hand you’ve submerged. Now stop imagining.

In layman’s terms, what you’ve done is to use your hand as a rudder of sorts. That’s one way of characterizing the effect. What you could also say, however, is that you’ve disrupted the laminar flow, creating turbulence that alters the direction of the force on the object within the flow. Those aren’t layman’s terms.

Whatever the precise words you’re using, they’re all relevant to a baseball flying through the air. The seams cause drag in different ways, and that drag causes movement. Physicist Alan Nathan does a better job explaining it both here and elsewhere, but that’s a simple way to understand the relationship of the seams to movement.

Trevor Bauer is currently showing the best horizontal movement on his sinker of his career. That’s what this graph illustrates:

Brooksbaseball-Chart-57

When I asked him about it, he agreed that it was good earlier in the year. Not recently, though. “Recently, it’s been shit,” he told me Tuesday afternoon. And you can see that, yes, indeed, the horizontal movement has been more erratic than it was earlier in the year.

Brooksbaseball-Chart-58

Part of that is just the fact that the body changes slightly over time. It’s related to the difficulty in improving command. Little muscles act differently as they get more or less fatigued than the muscles around them. “I also overhauled my delivery a couple of years ago, and I’m starting to get better muscle memory for this new delivery over time,” Bauer pointed out. So that’s helped him get to this point where he’s commanding the ball better, which has allowed him to throw the front-door sinker to lefties more often this year, a big part in putting up his best strikeout- and walk-rate differential this year (and overall numbers) against lefties of his career.

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Tyler Clippard on Beating BABIP and the Limits of FIP

Tyler Clippard has always been a smart pitcher. That’s evident from his erudition as well as his results. Based on my experience, the 31-year-old reliever is equally adept at discussing his craft and flummoxing opposing hitters with solid-but-unspectacular stuff.

As noted in this past Sunday’s Notes column, Clippard has recorded the lowest BABIP against (.237) of any pitcher to have thrown at least 500 innings since 2007. That’s when the righty broke into the big leagues. Pitching for the Nationals, A’s, Mets, Diamondbacks and now the Yankees, Clippard has 45 wins, 54 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 539 appearances (all but eight out of the bullpen). Augmenting his ability to induce weak contact is a better-than-you-might-expect 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s made a pair of All-Star teams.

———

Clippard on his BABIP and creating plane: “Someone brought it to my attention a few years ago. I guess it didn’t surprise me when I learned that. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways that I can pitch to get the weakest contact, whether it’s from my arm slot or my pitch selection. That’s kind of how I’ve always pitched. I’ve always tried to maximize my room for error. I’m not a guy who is going to have pinpoint command, so I’m always trying to create more plane, more deception.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 8/24/16

12:02
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Let’s talk some baseball for an hour or so.
12:02
Ed in Iowa: I have several questions/comments this week, but most importantly: Was there good news yesterday? Is it time to start planning that fancy, costume, pool party?
12:03
Dave Cameron: For those who aren’t sure what Ed is referencing, I had my five year remission checkup yesterday. It was, indeed, good news. I’ll never be really “cured”, as there’s always a small lingering chance of recurrence, but the five year mark is the point where 95% of AML patients end up living a nice healthy life until something else kills them.
12:04
Dave Cameron: So yeah, we’re going to have a big party.
12:05
britishcub: Are NL pitchers stats more predictive of future performance if you look at non pitcher at bats only or do you just lose information?
12:05
Dave Cameron: I would imagine it probably doesn’t make a big difference one way or another, but I haven’t seen it studied.

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Jose Ramirez Has Been Michael Brantley

It was fair to wonder about the potential of the Indians’ offense when Peter Gammons went on live television during the Winter Meetings and reported that Michael Brantley would be out until August after learning his shoulder injury was worse than originally expected. It might’ve been fair to wonder about it before then; this was a unit that was below average by wRC+ in 2015, and added to their lineup only Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, and Juan Uribe — a trio of 34- to 36-year-olds who were coming off just average offensive seasons themselves — in what was then seen as an underwhelming offseason. Everyone expected the Indians to pitch, but without Brantley, could an outfield of Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall lead a playoff team?

And then Brantley’s shoulder issues wound up being worse than even Gammons reported, and Cleveland’s best hitter over the previous two seasons managed just 43 painful plate appearances before succumbing to another shoulder surgery that ended his season once and for all. Essentially one-third of their entire offseason busted — Uribe was designated for assignment in early August — and yet here we are, more than two-thirds of the way through the year, and the Indians have managed a top-five offense by runs scored and a top-10 group by wRC+. Arguably, it’s the hitting that’s been their biggest strength, before the pitching.

Even more shocking is that same lackluster outfield unit currently ranks third in WAR and sixth in wRC+. A lot of that has to do with Tyler Naquin tapping into unforeseen power and hitting like Anthony Rizzo, but even more important to the Indians’ success this season has been the fact that, despite Brantley’s lost year, they haven’t actually been without him at all. Turns out the key to not missing your All-Star left fielder is to simply clone him using a 5-foot-9 utility infielder:

Jose Ramirez vs. Michael Brantley
Player AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+ BB% K% HR* SB* WAR*
Brantley, 2016 projection .299 .362 .449 .150 123 8.6% 9.4% 14 14 3.0
Ramirez, 2016 production .305 .359 .453 .148 118 7.3% 11.2% 13 26 4.0
*HR, SB, and WAR figures prorated to 600 PA

Jose Ramirez has provided the Indians with a near-exact replica of Brantley’s 2016 preseason projected numbers, and due to Ramirez’s superior base-running and defensive abilities, he’s already outperformed Brantley’s full-season WAR projection in just 466 plate appearances. Ramirez even took the impersonation a step further by filling in as the team’s primary left fielder for much of the season — despite having played just 14 major-league innings in the outfield prior to this year — before returning to a more familiar post at third base upon Uribe’s dismissal from the team.

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NERD Game Scores: Rich Hill Simultaneous Return and Debut

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
San Francisco at Los Angeles NL | 22:10 ET
Cueto (173.2 IP, 85 xFIP-) vs. Hill (76.0 IP, 84 xFIP-)
With the exception of a five-pitch appearance on July 17, from which he was forced to depart because of a troublesome blister, left-hander Rich Hill hasn’t produced an actual start-start since July 7th, when he recorded 10 strikeouts in six innings against the Astros in Houston. Tonight marks not only his return to the mound after that extended furlough, but also his debut as a Dodger, by which team he was acquired at the trade deadline.

Hill’s most notable quality, of course, is the capacity to throw a curveball that replicates precisely — according even to scientists, probably — the dimensions of a Fibonacci spiral. Regard:

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Los Angeles NL Television.

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Manny Machado Is Looking for His Cookie

Per at-bat, Manny Machado is better this year than he was last year. That’ll happen with a 24-year-old. Or at least that’s what people tell me, I don’t remember those halcyon days myself. What’s most interesting, of course, is how he’s done it. You can tell that he’s hitting for a bit more power by hitting more fly balls, and that he’s improved against breaking balls. That much is on the player pages. But was it the result of a mechanical adjustment, or an approach adjustment? Ask the player, and the answer is yes. And no!

“I haven’t really changed anything,” the Orioles infielder said recently of his swing. “You get a little smarter with the pitches they’re going to throw to you, what they are trying to do to you. Try to look more for a pitch you can drive.” When pushed on that particular subject, he admitted what most hitters would probably admit if they were being honest. “I’m sitting dead red. Looking for a fastball down the middle, more or less.”

“What’s my power, what’s my cookie?” he added with a smile. As for his answer, it does appear as though the fastball up has rewarded him with the best results. He’s been more aggressive on the fastball out over the plate and that’s resulted in more fly balls and power. Here’s his swing rate on fastballs last year (left) and this year (right).

MachadovFastballs

Sitting on that high fastball has made the low pitches look less attractive — the same thing Adrian Beltre found when he started looking for the high fastball — and that has, in turn, dampened Machado’s ground-ball rate on fastballs.

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The Three Silliest Andrew Miller Swings of the Year

Andrew Miller made a batter look silly last night. Andrew Miller makes batters look silly most nights, but last night, a batter looked particularly silly. One surefire way to identify a batter who just got done looking silly is to check whether he’s laying down in dirt right after he swung. Let’s see.

Q: Was This Major Leaguer Laying Down in the Dirt Right After He Swung?

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 5.23.00 PM

A: Sure was

That there batter sure looked silly. The good news for Khris Davis is, he’s not alone. He didn’t even take the season’s most ill-advised swing against Miller. As our own Jeff Sullivan pointed out back in May, maybe the thing Miller does very best is force hitters to take ill-advised swings, at least certainly relative to the ones they don’t take. I’ll explain. When Jeff wrote his article in May, Miller’s O-Swing% against was higher than his Z-Swing% against, making him the only pitcher in baseball with such a distinction. To translate that into English: batters were swinging at would-be balls from Miller more frequently than they were swinging at would-be strikes. That’s not how hitting is supposed to work.

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 8/23/16

9:02
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!
9:02
Paul Swydan: Sorry, was just talking with Jeff.
9:02
John Olerud: Start Danny Duffy @ BOS this week? I know it seems crazy to sit him given the roll he’s on, but his peripherals and dropping velocity are a little concerning. I’d probably start him in any other situation (except for an @ COL start), but based on the team and park factors for 2016 @ BOS is on par with an @ COL start. What say you guys?
9:03
Paul Swydan: I think Podhorzer made a compelling case to drop him last week at RotoGraphs. In my opinion, the Sox have been scoring less, so I’d rock Duffy til the wheels fell off. But you are right to be wary.
9:05
Paul Swydan: Hold on guys, Jeff is having issues.
9:05
OddBall Herrera: Did I get the poll questions right? You never publish answers to these things

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The A’s Have Made an Exciting Discovery

Here’s a little game for you to play: Try to name, off the top of your head, the current Oakland A’s starting rotation. It’s not so easy. It’s not even easy for me, and I’m the guy on staff in charge of the A’s team depth chart. Sonny Gray is sidelined. Rich Hill is gone. Henderson Alvarez never showed up. On and on it goes. The upside is that, at this point, the rotation doesn’t matter much, since Oakland’s games don’t matter much. The downside is that Oakland’s games don’t matter much, partly because a quality rotation never came together.

Yet in some ways it can be liberating when everything goes wrong. You get to experiment as an organization a little more, because you don’t have to put up with the burden of stakes. You can try things out, just to see, and for no other reason or reasons. Because of the way things have gone, the A’s have had to scramble for pitching help. Monday, they got six shutout innings from an unlikely starter against the Indians. That starter? Andrew Triggs.

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Mike Zunino Awoke From His Nightmare

Sandy Leon isn’t the best hitter in baseball, but if you set the plate-appearance minimum low enough, then he shows up as the big-league leader in wRC+. He steadfastly refuses to cool off, and so far he has saved the Red Sox behind the plate. It’s a heck of a story.

Mike Zunino isn’t the best hitter in baseball, but if you set the plate-appearance minimum even lower, then he shows up as the big-league leader in wRC+. Maybe that’s not fair to Leon, but then, lowering the threshold for Leon isn’t fair to everyone else. Zunino was brought up for good about a month ago in order to bump Chris Iannetta, and he’s helped to fuel a Mariner surge in the standings. Given what Zunino had been through before, it’s a heck of a story, as well. Zunino is but 25 years old, yet he’s already been to baseball hell.

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Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss Powering Cardinals

Last season, 64 players hit at least 20 home runs. It was 57 the year before. This year, there are already 68 players with 20 home runs and, with six weeks of the season remaining, there are another 40 players with at least 15 home runs who have at least a shot. Two of the players powering up this year, Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss, were relatively recent under-the-radar acquisitions for the Cardinals who’ve now helped the club to a National League-leading 173 homers. Their deals didn’t necessarily look great at the time they were made, but both players have helped put the Cardinals in position for a sixth straight playoff appearance.

While baseball has generally been homer-happy this season, St. Louis has spread its power around. No player on the club’s roster sits among the top 30 in the majors in homers. Moss’ 23 paces the team. That said, the Cardinals also have an MLB-leading nine players who’ve recorded double-digit home-run totals this year, with Tommy Pham (nine) knocking on the door right now and Jhonny Peralta, injured for most of the year, possessing an outside shot after having accumulated six homers so far. A roster with 10 players featuring double-digit homer totals would tie the National League record set by the Cincinnati Reds in both 1999 and 2000, per the Baseball Reference Play Index. Eleven players in double-digits would tie the MLB record set by the 2004 Detroit Tigers and matched by the Houston Astros last season.

After averaging 122 homers over the last three years, the Cardinals are on pace for 228, which would represent the most any National League team has hit since the Brewers hit 231 in the 2007 season. It’s not just Moss and Gyorko, either: Matt Holliday, currently on the DL, has 19; Stephen Piscotty has 18; and both Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk have recorded 15 homers this year. However, Moss and Gyorko are definitely the most efficient when it comes to the long ball. There are 179 players this season who’ve reached the 10-homer mark. By plate appearances per home run, two Cardinals appear prominently near the top of the list.

Most Prolific Home-Run Hitters in 2016
Team PA HR PA/HR
Mark Trumbo Orioles 518 38 13.6
Brandon Moss Cardinals 327 23 14.2
Khris Davis Athletics 469 32 14.7
Ryan Schimpf Padres 206 14 14.7
Jedd Gyorko Cardinals 298 20 14.9
Ryan Howard Phillies 286 19 15.1
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 534 35 15.3
Pedro Alvarez Orioles 293 19 15.4
Trevor Story Rockies 415 27 15.4
Yoenis Cespedes Mets 389 25 15.6
Min. 10 HR

The Cardinals’ leading home run-hitters, Gyorko and Moss, have combined for 43 home runs in just 625 plate appearances on the season, even while finding the path to playing time a bit of a struggle. Moss came to the Cardinals last season in a deadline deal for pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky, a trade the present author panned given Moss’ struggles to regain his power after hip surgery in 2014. Moss was fine for the Cardinals last year, with a 108 wRC+, but he lacked power, hitting only four home runs in 151 plate appearances, leading to a .159 ISO.

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Robbie Ray: A Diamondback Discusses His Arsenal

Robbie Ray has a 7-11 win-loss record and a 4.31 ERA. Neither is impressive. Some of his other numbers are. The Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander has a 3.53 FIP and his walks and strikeouts per nine innings are 3.2 and 11.2, respectively. His velocity is also notable. Ray’s heater is averaging 93.9 mph and topping out at 97. Six weeks short of his 25th birthday, he’s never thrown harder.

There have been a few situational issues. Third time through the order has been the biggest problem — resulting in a .331/.373/.598 slash line — and he’s had trouble closing out innings. With two outs, opposing batters are hitting .286/.347/.432 against him. As August Fagerstrom wrote earlier in the month, despite his plus stuff, Ray is “something of an enigma.”

In his last start he was masterful. On Sunday, in San Diego, Ray allowed one hit — a home run by Patrick Kivlehan — and fanned 13 over seven innings of work. A week earlier, he sat down to discuss his repertoire and the reasons behind his not-without-flaws breakout.

———

Ray on his mechanics and velocity gain: “The velo on my fastball is up this year. I think a lot of that is just me understanding my body better and fine-tuning my mechanics to get maximum efficiency out of my body. It hasn’t been anything big. I did make a minor change with my initial step. I step back now, kind of at a 45-degree angle, whereas before I stepped a little horizontally.

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Revisiting Chris Davis’ Troubling Trend

Few players can heat up the way Chris Davis can. Baltimore’s left-handed slugger has homered five times in his last six games, and over the last two weeks has ran a .432 ISO and 183 wRC+. It’s a sufficient number of stretches like this one over the course of a season that leave Davis winding up among the league’s best hitters, as he did in 2013 and 2015.

Few players can get lost the way Davis sometimes can too, though, and certainly few are getting paid more. Before Davis’ current two-week hot stretch began, the $161-million man was barely a league-average hitter, posting a 103 wRC+ over his first 451 plate appearances in the first year of the seven-year contract he signed in the offseason. Even when Davis has struggled to make contact, he’s walked enough to maintain a respectable on-base percentage, and he moves well enough for a slugger to accrue base-running value and avoid being a liability in the field. So, the season as a whole hasn’t been a disaster: he’s projected to finish the year with roughly 3.5 WAR. But the bat’s what earns Davis his money, and when Dan Duquette handed out the largest free-agent contract in franchise history this January, he certainly wasn’t hoping to see it look like this so soon.

And just before Duquette handed out that very contract, our own Jeff Sullivan, writing for FOX Sports, pointed out a troubling trend within Davis’ game, regarding that very bat. Sullivan noted that Davis was on a five-year run of increasing his pull rate, pulling air balls more each year, and pulling ground balls more each year. The culmination of that five-year increase was Davis, last year, ranking in the 99th percentile in pull rate. In other words, he’d become the most pull-happy hitter in baseball. The extra pulled grounders resulted in more shifts, and more outs. The extra pulled air balls presented a potentially worrisome indicator, too. To quote directly from that article:

People say that, as hitters age, they try to become more pull-happy, to squeeze out as much power as possible. That’s not the only explanation, but this could be Davis adopting and embracing an old-player skill. Which isn’t what you want to think about a player who’s been offered a seven-year contract.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 8/23/16

12:04
august fagerstrom: I am here!

12:04
august fagerstrom: Let’s chat!

12:05
august fagerstrom: This week’s soundtrack, is of course, all the new Frank Ocean material

12:05
august fagerstrom: All of it is great. I’m actually partial to Endless right now, though Blond is growing on me. Interested to hear y’alls thoughts

12:05
Bork: Hello, friend!

12:05
august fagerstrom: Hello, Bork!

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
San Francisco at Los Angeles NL | 20:10 ET
Bumgarner (175.2 IP, 86 xFIP-) vs. Maeda (136.2 IP, 91 xFIP-)
There are those who will tell you — on the subject of this sport about which we all care — there are those who’ll say that “the name of the game is getting wins.” Couriers of misinformation, is what this lot are. Look in any reference text of your choice, and you’ll see: the name of the game is baseball. So neither believe them, nor accept the ride they’ve offered, because it could very likely end in the abduction of your person.

This isn’t to say, of course, that wins aren’t important. They represent a sort of currency. Collect a sufficient number of them and you — you, in this case, being a major-league baseball team and not merely one who’s attempting to escape the woeful burdens of the workday for a moment — and you can exchange them for admission into the postseason.

What’s notable about the Giants and Dodgers at the moment is that they possess an almost identical number of wins, the former with 68, the latter with one more than 68. And if the Giants win tonight, both clubs will possess one more than 68 wins — and both sit atop the NL West. The consequences of the game are considerable, in other words. We watch, our breath teeming with bate.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Los Angeles Television.

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Joe Musgrove’s Weird One-Seam Sinker

We first encountered Joe Musgrove‘s one-seam sinker around the All-Star break, when the Houston Astros right-hander was kind enough to show us the grip before his appearance in the Futures Game. I’d never seen a one-seam grip before, unless you count the one Zach Britton showed us. While we could spot glimpses of the sinker in the Futures Game and in his minor-league games, it wasn’t until Musgrove came up and started pitching in the big leagues that we could truly put his pitch in the context of other big-league sinkers. It’s weird.

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All Right, Adrian Gonzalez Is Back

The Reds are bad, and the Dodgers just clobbered them. As a part of that clobbering, Adrian Gonzalez socked three dingers. Here, you can watch them all! Each is impressive in its own way, I suppose. They’re most impressive as a group.

There was a time when Gonzalez’s power was absent. He hit three home runs in April. He hit three home runs, combined, in May and June. The fairly obvious culprit was a back injury, and it takes no imagination at all to figure out how an achy back could affect a swing. Gonzalez got some treatment. He insisted his back felt better. The numbers still didn’t quite show up.

Now they’re showing up. From the looks of things, Gonzalez is indeed healthy again, and it simply took him a short stretch to re-find what previously had made him successful. Adrian Gonzalez is looking like Adrian Gonzalez again. The most compelling evidence is probably what follows, as drawn from Baseball Savant. Here are nearly two years of Gonzalez’s batted balls, as tracked by Statcast. This plot shows rolling average launch angles.

adrian-gonzalez-launch-angle

That dip is impossible to miss, as an injured and compromised Gonzalez plummeted toward 0. He’s reversed that, again successfully putting batted balls in the air. And he’s once more hitting with authority. Here’s a rolling-average plot of hard-hit rate, and this doesn’t include Monday’s game, not that it would make a huge difference:

adrian-gonzalez-hard-hit

Gonzalez is getting his swing back, and he’s also showing a better ability to hit the ball hard to right. Of course, at his best, he’s been more of an all-fields threat — and Monday, he pulled two homers while sending another the other way. I know it was a day game in Cincinnati against the Reds, but big-league homers are big-league homers. Gonzalez can hit them again, and he can do other things, and suddenly he’s up to a 123 wRC+. That’s in line with where he’s been for a while.

The Dodgers are still playing without Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers are still winning without Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers, of course, would love Kershaw back, but since the All-Star break, Gonzalez has been a key part of what’s been the best offense in the National League. Kershaw’s important. He’s pretty far from being everything.