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Launch angles — October 18, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Mike Stobe/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

Chase Headley singles and stumbles into second to set up a big inning — +.042 cWPA

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The Yankees had shown signs of life, cutting the Astros 4-0 lead in half in the bottom of the seventh inning on an Aaron Judge solo home run and a Gary Sánchez sacrifice fly. That’s all well and good, but they still had to make up a two-run deficit with only six outs to work with and a win expectancy that sat at just 16.5 percent. The Yankees needed a rally.

With Joe Musgrove on the bump for the Astros to begin the eighth, Todd Frazier singled to left, bringing Chase Headley to the plate as a pinch-hitter. Musgrove fell behind Headley 2-0 before battling back to even the count up at 2-2. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Musgrove painted outside edge with a cutter, but it was belt high which allowed Headley to poke the offering to left field.

Frazier went first to third with ease, but Headley stumbled after rounding first and appeared to be caught in no man’s land. Luckily for him and the Yankees, Astros left-fielder Marwin González threw behind Headley, giving him just enough time to scamper into second base and beat the second throw.

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The play was close enough that the Astros’ challenged it, but in the end replay showed that Headley was able to sneak his hand in to second base just before the tag was applied.

With runners ending up at second and third with no outs, this play captured both the highest Win Probability Added and Championship Win Probability Added of the game despite the fact that no runs scored. A quick look at the run expectancy matrix from the FanGraphs’ Glossary shows us that with runners on second and third with no outs a team is expected to score 1.920 runs. Meaning that when Headley made it safely into second, the odds essentially pointed towards the Yankees tying the game.

Odds and run expectancy are one thing, but New York still had to execute and bring those runs home, something they did in short order. A Brett Gardner RBI groundout and an Aaron Judge RBI double scored both Frazier and Headley to tie the game. The Yankees weren’t done there, as they sent six more hitters to the plate after Judge and were able to take a 6-4 lead when all was said and done.

The hits that actually result in runs scoring get all the publicity, but Headley’s single and subsequent scramble to second base are a nice reminder that sometimes the biggest plays are the ones that set the stage for the RBI knock.

Yesterday’s best pitching performance

Yu Darvish — game score of 62

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We’ve relaxed our criteria for this section of Launch Angles in the playoffs since the best pitching performances on any given day often belongs to a reliever. No relief pitcher did enough to win the day on Tuesday, but three of the four starting pitchers threw their hats in the ring as Sonny Gray, Lance McCullers Jr., and Yu Darvish all finished with a game score of 62. It’s a number that never would’ve carried the day in the regular season, but in these times of quick playoff hooks for starters, it represents a solid day’s work.

We’re not going have a three way tie, so let’s parse their stat lines and determine a winner.

Tuesday’s Playoff Starters

Pitcher IP H ER HR BB K Whiffs
Pitcher IP H ER HR BB K Whiffs
Lance McCullers Jr. 6 2 1 1 2 3 8
Sonny Gray 5 1 1 0 2 4 4
Yu Darvish 6 1/3 6 1 1 1 7 11
Data via and Baseball Savant

Ok, so Darvish allowed by far the most hits but he mitigated that by also collecting the most strikeouts and swinging strikes. Add to the punch outs and whiffs his slight edge in innings pitched — yes, it’s just one extra out, but it still counts — and Darvish gets the nod.

As has become the nature of postseason starting pitching, the Dodgers’ lone right-handed playoff starter delivered just 81 pitches in Game 3. Along with his seven strikeouts, Darvish pounded the bottom of the zone and collected eight groundouts; a sound strategy with the Chicago wind blowing out on Tuesday night. Perhaps most notable about Darvish’s outing was how he pounded the strike zone, throwing 59 of his 81 pitches for strikes and first pitch strikes to 17 of the 25 hitters he faced. It’s astonishing how many pitches down the heart of the plate Cubs hitters either swung through or took for a called strike.

Zone Plot via Baseball Savant

The movement on Darvish’s extensive repertoire allows him to get away with what might seem to be meaty pitches. On multiple occasions Darvish started a slider in on a right-handed Cubs hitter only to have it break back over the heart of the plate for a called strike.

Dave Roberts probably could’ve ridden Darvish for another inning or two, but with the Dodgers bullpen hitting on all cylinders lately and the Cubs lineup about to turn over for the fourth time, caution prevailed. Still, for the 6 13 innings that Darvish pitched, he was excellent. Add to that work on the mound his contribution on offense — a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk and accompanying aggressive bat-throw — and recognizing Darvish in this space is a no-brainer.

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Yesterday’s biggest home run

Chris Taylor — 444 feet

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If we were placing bets on who’d have the longest home run of the postseason, Chris Taylor wouldn’t have gotten a lot of action. But here we are, deep into each Championship Series, and he now owns the longest home run of the playoffs after blasting a 444 foot shot to center field in Game 3 of the NLCS.

Taylor took the first four pitches against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks and was the beneficiary of a missed call from home plate umpire Mike Winters on the first pitch; but nonetheless, the Mariners utility infielder turned Dodgers lead-off slugger worked the count to 3-1 before taking the bat off of his shoulder. Taylor waited for a good pitch to hit and didn’t miss once he got it, driving a middle-middle, 89 mile per hour sinker from Hendricks well beyond the centerfield wall.

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With a righty on the hill for Chicago and Corey Seager off of the NLCS roster due to injury, Taylor got the start at shortstop on Tuesday. That, along with his dinger in Game 1 as an outfielder, puts him alone in the history books in a very specific way.

It’s truly amazing how far Chris Taylor has come since his days with the Mariners. Even if the Dodgers were hopeful when they traded for him last season, what he’s become is surely beyond even their wildest expectations.

Not only did Taylor absolutely crush a center-cut sinker from Hendricks, but it broke the early tie and gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish. Here’s another close up and side view of the dinger, so you can admire it in all of it’s glory. The wind was blowing out at Wrigley on Tuesday, but this blast would’ve been out regardless. Chris Taylor, power hitter extraordinaire.

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SABRy tidbits

  • We’re running the risk of this becoming the Grant Brisbee section, but our colleague is turning out a ton of great postseason content for the SB Nation MLB page and it must not be ignored. Today I’ll link his piece on the career arc of Yasiel Puig, who is taking the playoffs by storm with both his antics AND exceptional play.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Alex Wood (3.34 projected ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (3.70 projected ERA)

Now down three games to none, Chicago’s collective backs are against the wall. On Wednesday they’ll send Jake Arrieta to the mound in what could very realistically be the pending free agent’s last start as a member of the Cubs. Opposing him and trying to lead the Dodgers to a second straight series sweep will be Alex Wood, who last pitched on September 26th against the Padres. The big question heading into Game 4 is if Wood’s long layoff will translate into a rusty pitcher or a well-rested pitcher. If the rest means that Wood’s fastball ticks back up to the 94-95 mile per hour range that it saw in the early part of the 2017 season, the Cubs may be in big trouble.

Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.