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
Cody Bellinger rips a double down the line to begin the Dodgers onslaught — +.016 cWPA
In the previous four games of the NLCS, the Cubs scored first, but on Thursday night they didn’t get the chance. As has been the case all playoff long, the Dodgers showed incredible patience as Chris Taylor led things off in the top of the first with a nine-pitch walk against Cubs starter José Quintana. Justin Turner then struck out — a rarity for him — but worked an additional six pitches against Quintana in the process.
Two hitters, one out, fifteen pitches thrown, and the dangerous, soon-to-be NL Rookie Of the Year Cody Bellinger was up next. Continuing the patient precedent set by his teammates, Bellinger looked at the first four offerings from Quintana and watched the count run to 2-2. On the fifth pitch he saw, Bellinger turned on a two-seam fastball on the inside edge and roped it down the right field line while Taylor showcased his impressive speed and made it from first to home in 10.39 seconds. The double only gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead, but the first three hitters had set tone for the night.
You don’t usually see plays from the first inning show up in this space as the biggest play of the game, but the Dodgers chipped away for their first three runs before the Kiké Hernández grand slam broke things wide open. The slow build of those first three runs rather than an early knock-out blow is what earned Bellinger’s double both the highest Win Probability Added and Championship Win Probability Added of the game.
Yesterday’s best pitching performance
Clayton Kershaw — game score of 64
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.
It’s amazing what happens when you complement one of the greatest pitchers to ever live with other capable starters and a lock down bullpen for a playoff run. For the first time in his postseason career, Clayton Kershaw has not had to pitch on short rest and over-extend himself. He hasn’t been perfect, but it’s safe to say that anyone still touting a “Kershaw can’t hack it in the playoffs” narrative is a context-ignoring dolt. Dismiss those people and their bad opinions. Has he had poor showings? Yes. But Kershaw’s had excellent outings as well, and on Thursday he pitched his team to the World Series.
Kershaw gave his club six solid innings, allowing one run, three hits, and one walk, while striking out six. He threw just 89 pitches because by the sixth inning the game was well in hand and there was no sense in risking injury with garbage time innings. The lone run against Kershaw came on a solo home run from Kris Bryant, and while Kershaw’s penchant for allowing home runs has become a legitimate concern this season, as MLB.com’s Mike Petriello noted on Twitter, this particular dinger isn’t the reason why.
The ball Bryant hit out (94 MPH/32 deg) had a 6% HR rate. It had a .136 avg. If Kershaw has a HR problem, it's not because of that. pic.twitter.com/yHRL0wVU5b— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 20, 2017
From the jump, Kershaw demonstrated that he had good fastball command and a great curveball. What he didn’t have — and what seems to have been the root cause of any struggles this season — was his slider. It’s somewhat easy to identify when Kershaw’s slider is an issue because he’ll be throwing it at 89-90 miles per hour when it’s most effective at 86-88. The uptick in velocity tends to flatten it out a bit. The good news for Dodgers fans is that his slider began to settle in a little bit over the course of his outing on Thursday. Maybe it was the ability to relax with a big lead, but look at how Kershaw’s slider started to decrease in velocity over the course of the game.
It wasn’t much, but Kershaw’s slider began to lock in over the course of his start. If he can keep that going into the World Series, it’d be huge for both his and the Dodgers’ prospects for capturing a ring. Even without his A+ slider Kershaw’s still pretty darn good; and no matter what, it’s nice that we finally get to see the best pitcher on the planet start on baseball’s biggest stage.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Kiké Hernández — 399 feet
As we discussed in the biggest play section, patient at-bats have been the signature of the Dodgers offense this postseason. Even when a Dodgers hitter makes an out, it’s rarely going to be in a non-competitive at-bat. That patience has served LA well to this point, but it’s also important to not let a hittable pitch sail by in the name of working a count. So when Kiké Hernández stepped into the box in the top of the second inning and saw a first pitch two-seamer in a spot where he could drive it, he pounced.
This was the perfect storm for a Hernández dinger as everything about the situation and pitch played completely to his strengths. He excels against lefties, having posted a 144 wRC+ against southpaws compared to a 36 wRC+ against righties this season. He is much better against fastballs, with a 2017 wOBA of .346 against them as opposed to a .265 wOBA against offspeed pitches. And as you can see from this zone chart of his average exit velocities, Hernandez excels at hitting pitches low in the zone that are over the middle or inside.
A fastball in the bottom third of the zone, middle-in, against a left-hander? That’s the perfect recipe for a Kiké Hernández dinger. As you’re surely well aware, this was the first of three home runs in what was a magical night overall for Hernández. His second was a grand slam that extended the Dodgers lead to 7-0 in the third inning and his third was a two-run blast in the ninth to cap off the evening in style. But that first one traveled the furthest distance, so that’s the tater we celebrate in this space.
- Spurred by the sure-to-be legendary four-pitch walk by Yu Darvish in Game 3 of the NLCS, BtBS alum Zack Crizer wrote a fantastic piece for Baseball Prospectus about the various tactics that have been employed by pitchers when forced to step foot in a batter’s box.
- The historic Astros offense has been struggling at the worst possible time. Over on the SB Nation MLB page, Grant Brisbee tries to get to the bottom of why Houston is collectively hitting like a pitcher.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Luis Severino (3.71 projected ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (3.79 projected ERA)
If you like starting pitchers who throw extremely hard, boy are you going to enjoy Game 6 of the ALCS tonight. Among qualified starters, Luis Severino (97.8 mph) and Justin Verlander (95.6) are 1st and 10th respectively in average four-seam fastball velocity according to Pitch Info. While they both light up the radar gun, Verlander is exactly 11 years older than Severino.* It’s grizzled veteran against young upstart in a rematch of Game 2, where Verlander went the distance and Severino pitched well but got a quick hook. With elimination on the table and the Astros’ offense scuffling, Houston is hoping their veteran righty can deliver another gem to force a Game 7.
*I mean it, exactly. Verlander and Severino were both born on February 20th. Now go out there and impress your friends and family with that Game 6 fun fact! Aren’t you glad you read Launch Angles? Enjoy the game, everybody.
Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.