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Launch angles — October 17, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

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

Todd Frazier opens the scoring with a three-run blast — +.258 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

In Friday’s recap of ALCS Game 1, I noted that pitchers’ duels will usually feature one or two big swings in WPA, at most. The same obviously applies for blowouts, which tend to have a decisive win expectancy spike, then a bunch of smaller jumps adding insult to injury:

Image via FanGraphs

Here, the play was what you’d expect — or, at least, the result of the play was what you’d expect. How it got there is another matter entirely.

After a sterling first inning — he struck out the first two hitters, then gave up a bunt single and picked the runner off first — Charlie Morton appeared to be in control. Trouble started brewing in the second frame, though, as Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks’ back-to-back singles put two men in scoring position. With two outs on the board, Frazier stepped to the plate.

Morton has always been an extreme ground ball pitcher, which means he lives low in the zone. Indeed, each of the three pitches he threw to Frazier was at or below the belt:

Image via Brooks Baseball

The first one, a 97-mph four-seamer, went for a ball thanks to poor framing. Frazier looked over the second one, a 96-mph sinker, for a called strike. Not wanting to mess with success, Morton came back with another blazing four-seamer at just about the same place. Even if Frazier made contact, he probably wouldn’t hit the ball very far.

Then this happened:

Image via MLB.com

And this happened:

GIF via MLB.com

You just can’t predict baseball. I mean, you can maybe predict the part where Morton gives up four more runs later in the game — after all, he’s Charlie Morton — but Frazier poking a knee-high heater over the opposite-field wall? While we’ve seen plenty of weird stuff this postseason, this individual swing, and its result, could take the cake for craziest play when all is said and done.

Yesterday’s best game score

CC Sabathia — 67

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

GIF via MLB.com

For the most part, this series has gone the way of the starting pitching. Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander dominated in Games 1 and 2, respectively; Houston won each of those. Last night in Game 3, it was New York’s turn, with Sabathia’s six scoreless innings propelling the Bombers to a crucial victory. Score one for Al Leiter, I guess.

Sabathia wasn’t exactly dominant against Houston; he gave up three hits and four walks, and an Astro reached base on an error to give the team eight total baserunners. But the veteran southpaw wasn’t entirely to blame for that — the umpiring was horrendous behind the plate:

Image via Baseball Savant

Despite that, Sabathia managed to throw 64 of his 99 pitches for strikes, while keeping the Astros from squaring the ball up. For a team in need of a stopper, that would suffice. Sabathia will probably allow a few runs his next time out, but he’s far from done — if the Yankees are in a do-or-die situation and they need someone to hold things together, he’s the one to call.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 371 feet

GIF via MLB.com

This dinger doesn’t look to be that deep, but don’t denounce Statcast just yet. Sometimes we forget just how big the new Yankee Stadium is. This ball would’ve been long gone if Judge had clobbered it in Games 1 or 2:

Graphic via MLB Park Overlay

In the more spacious confines of the Bronx, it was a wall-scraper. In the bandbox that is Minute Maid park, it would’ve landed several rows back.

And that shouldn’t obscure the fact that this ball actually made it out of the park. Look at where Will Harris put this pitch!

Image via Brooks Baseball

When a pitcher throws up and in, he’ll get a boost in effective velocity — the pitch seems harder to the hitter than it actually is. That means this 93-mph four-seamer looked like 94 or 95 to Judge, which is a pretty significant difference. Yet he still managed to contort his 6-foot-7 frame in time to not only make contact, but push it over the fence.

Really, Judge himself is just a marvel. He finished the regular season strong — his slash line from Sept. 1 onward was .311/.463/.889 — to elevate his season line to .284/.422/.627. He was laboring before this game, having hit .129 in 34 postseason at-bats, but this bomb is a step in the right direction (read: the wrong direction for Astros pitchers). If the Yankees are to come back in this series, it’ll most likely be Judge leading the charge.

SABRy tidbits

  • On Sunday, John Lackey — yes, that John Lackey — gave up a walk-off home run to Justin Turner, allowing the Dodgers to pull ahead of the Cubs 2-0 in the NLCS. The folks over at the dot-com have some great coverage on both sides of that: Eric Stephen looks at the parallels between Turner’s blast and Kirk Gibson’s famous World Series homer, which occurred on the same day 29 years apart, and Grant Brisbee breaks down how Chicago’s bullpen got to that point (again, this was John Lackey.)

Today’s best pitching matchup

Yu Darvish (3.60 projected ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (3.74 projected ERA)

After dropping the first two games of the NLCS in L.A., the Cubs head home to Wrigley Field, with Hendricks aiming to turn around their skid. The junk-baller will face the Dodgers’ No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 starter (Jesus, this team has depth), who hasn’t missed a beat since joining the club at the trade deadline. Neither team has scored a ton in this series, and with these two righties on the mound, that trend could continue tonight.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.