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Launch angles — October 1, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants 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

Austin Hedges puts the Padres back on top — +.686 WPA

The biggest play section of the daily recap has never taken playoff consequences into account. Maybe that’s a good thing or maybe it’s not, but either way, the result is that we’re highlighting a play from a game from the second-to-last day of the season between the 63–97 Giants and the 70–90 Padres. I think this is one of the beautiful things about baseball—that the games still happen, regardless of whether or not we’re really paying attention—and I’m happy to get the chance to highlight a moment of excitement and emotion from one of those semi-meaningless games.

Sam Dyson had the ninth for the Giants, and he worked his way to two outs with a strikeout and lineout, though with a couple of singles mixed in. Getting Hedges would’ve sent San Francisco home as winners. But Dyson threw three straight fastballs, and after Hedges fouled off the first and took the second for a strike, I have to imagine his timing was pretty well set. Fastball number three stayed out over the plate, and Hedges hit a slicing line drive to right that just snuck over the glove of Hunter Pence. The Giants would go quietly in the bottom of the 9th, and the Padres would take home the W.

This was Matt Cain’s final game before retirement, as he announced earlier this week, and it was a fitting one in more ways than one. He had an outing he should feel good about, going five innings with four strikeouts, one walk, two hits, and no runs. The bullpen blowing the lead he left them with and sticking him with a no-decision is not exactly a fairy tale ending, but it is appropriate in the context of Cain’s career; from 2009–2012, Cain ran an impressive 2.93 ERA but had just 55 wins in 131 starts. (To give you a sense of the unluckiness of those numbers, Justin Verlander had a 2.95 ERA and 78 wins in 135 starts over the same period.) Pitcher wins don’t matter, but they do convey some information about the backup a starter received from his offense and bullpen. It was a small hint of bitterness in a otherwise sweet farewell to Cain, and just enough to give the game a real feeling of nostalgia. Even crushing ninth-inning losses can be alright if you frame them the right way.

Yesterday’s best game score

Jameson Taillon — 74

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.

Jameson Taillon quieted the big bats of the Nationals, throwing seven innings with five strikeouts, one walk, four hits, and one run. The Nats weren’t pushing out a we’ve-clinched-the-playoffs-and-it’s-late-September lineup, either; notably, this was Bryce Harper’s fourth game back from a six-week DL stint, as Washington tries to get him right before the playoffs, and he was joined by most of the other big names on the Nationals roster. This was a real lineup that Taillon trounced.

This was the last start of a largely successful season for the 25-year-old Pittsburgh righthander. First, and most importantly, Taillon had successful surgery for testicular cancer back in May, and returned to the pitcher’s mound just three weeks later. And on the diamond, he’s ended the year with a mediocre 4.44 ERA but a very good 3.48 FIP, with a gap that’s probably the result of a .352 BABIP. Somewhat troubling was his increased walk rate, which rose from 4.1 percent in 2016 to 7.8 percent in 2017, and banking on his home run rate to stay at a paltry 0.74 HR/9 seems foolish.

Regardless, it was a successful year on the whole for the young Pirate, and one that ended on a good note against the Nationals. Pittsburgh needs Taillon to bloom if they’re going to have a shot in the NL Central going forward, especially with the struggles Gerritt Cole has undergone this season. On Saturday, Taillon certainly looked up to the challenge.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 484

We’re in the last couple days of the season, and Aaron Judge is doing his best to finish strong, hitting the fourth-longest dinger of the season on Saturday afternoon. I think Judge’s explosion will be one of the defining aspects of the 2017 season in my memory, hopefully because Judge goes on to have a long and successful career, where he continues to push the boundaries of what is possible. But even if he never played another MLB game, I think 2017 will stick in memory as the year that Aaron Judge took the league by storm.

This was simply the platonic ideal of a gigantic home run. Marcus Stroman threw Judge two fastballs to start the plate appearance, with both missing off the outside edge of the plate. Fastball number three was also supposed to stay outside, as you can see from Russell Martin’s glove, but it leaked back over the inside half of the plate, and Judge didn’t let it go. Look at how Martin reacts to the moment of contact: pure resignation. I think he probably knew what was going to happen as soon as he had to start moving his glove toward the inside of the plate.

And while Yankee Stadium is not a great place to hit home runs, I think, this one looked pretty dang nice. There’s also something very appropriate about Judge hitting this blast out to the retired numbers on the other side of the bleachers, the kind of little detail that will definitely be seized upon as a piece of universal foreshadowing in some future retrospective. If this is Judge’s last home run of the season, it was a good one to end on.

SABRy tidbits

  • Andrew Romine played all nine positions on Saturday afternoon. Whether you think it’s just a dumb gimmick or incredibly cool, it’s undoubtedly rare, and Ashley MacLennan has the play-by-play breakdown over at Bless You Boys.
  • The A’s haven’t been competitive in a while. At the close of their third season in the basement, Alex Hall breaks down the fruits that the constant rebuilding has brought, and looks at the young talent the A’s have acquired recently. Whether it was worth it or not is up to you to decide.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Noah Syndergaard (2.99 projected ERA) vs. Nick Pivetta (4.67 projected ERA)

On the last day of the season, with no playoff spots still to be determined, it’s pretty slim pickings for the best pitching matchup of the year. It’s a little upsetting to even see Syndergaard pencilled in as the starter; apparently, he’s only going to throw 25 pitches or one inning, whichever is shorter. (What are the Mets doing, exactly, other than trying desperately to give people some reason to come to the ballpark? That’s a genuine question; I am deeply confused by the way they’re treating Syndergaard’s rehab.) The Phillies’ Nick Pivetta has a 6.26 ERA. Like I said: slim pickings, at least when it comes to thrilling starting pitching matchups.