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Launch angles — October 21, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-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

Brian McCann puts the Astros on the board — +.182 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Just because a game is scoreless early on, doesn’t mean it’s a pitchers’ duel. Through four innings in Friday’s ALCS Game 6, the Yankees and Astros had combined for four singles, one walk, and zero runs, with Justin Verlander (four K’s) and Luis Severino (three K’s) keeping the hitters on the ropes. After that, though, the veteran took over, and the young gun melted down.

Alex Bregman led off with a walk against Severino. Marwin Gonzalez advanced him to second with a groundout, and Evan Gattis worked a walk of his own. The Astros had already doubled their baserunner total when McCann stepped to the plate, which put the pressure on him to capitalize.

Whether he was afraid of a big hit or just gassed, Severino didn’t give McCann much to hit. Everything was on the outer part of the plate:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Gary Sanchez managed to pull the first two pitches back toward the zone, duping Jim Reynolds into calling them strikes. He had no such luck with the next two, evening the count at 2-2.

Trying to put the pesky Astros catcher away, Severino reached back for a 98-mph heater at the top of the zone. The idea was solid — McCann has struggled with pitches at the letters this year — but the Yankees righty didn’t execute it well, catching a little too much of the plate. McCann went with the ball, poking it into right field out of the reach of Aaron Judge for a ground rule double.

New York was still in the game at this point — a 1-0 deficit is nothing to worry about. But Severino dug the hole deeper, allowing a two-run single to Jose Altuve before departing down 3-0. One David Robertson meltdown later, the Yankees found themselves on the receiving end of a humiliating 7-1 loss. And to think it all started out as a pitchers’ duel…

Yesterday’s best game score

Justin Verlander — 78

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

Judging pitchers on their postseason stats is a risky enterprise — the sample sizes are pretty small, they don’t pitch on regular rest, and the competition is a lot tougher — but goddamn, Verlander really dominates in October. Heading into Game 6, he had a lifetime 3.18 ERA and 3.39 FIP in 116 postseason innings, and with seven scoreless innings against the Yankees, his stat line only got better.

Despite facing a lineup with five left-handed hitters, Verlander didn’t tinker with his pitch mix very much — of his 99 pitches, 58 were fastballs and 37 were breaking balls. While the process may seem odd, you can’t quibble much with the results:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Verlander dealt 17 called and swinging strikes, which helped him rack up eight strikeouts; overall, 70 of his 99 pitches went for strikes, limiting New York to one free pass. Even without a ton of batted-ball luck on his side — the Yankees notched a .294 BABIP against him — he kept them on the ropes and off the scoreboard.

That Verlander flattened New York here isn’t a surprise, given his playoff resume (which now has a 3.00 ERA). Houston’s rotation was its weak spot for most of the season; now that Verlander’s in the field, the ‘Stros are one win away from the World Series.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 425 feet

GIF via MLB.com

At this point, the game was still somewhat close — heading into the eighth inning, the Yankees had a 6.6 percent chance of winning. Brett Gardner’s leadoff foul-out dinged the Bombers, but after him came Judge. The slugger didn’t hesitate when Brad Peacock gave him a first-pitch fastball:

Image via Brooks Baseball

All year, Judge has feasted on heaters, especially when they’re high and down the middle. This wasn’t the best decision on Peacock’s part, and Judge made sure his bad process led to bad results.

After laboring through the ALDS against the Indians, Judge has returned to form in the ALCS. Over 24 trips to the dish, he’s slashing .300/.417/.850 with three long balls. MVP voting takes place before the postseason, but if it didn’t, Judge would be bolstering his case for the AL honor with blasts like these.

SABRy tidbits

  • A bizarre quirk of this Yankees-Astros series — each team has won every game it’s played at home. (Perhaps that bodes well for Houston tonight?) The home-field advantage this postseason has been some of the strongest in recent history, as Eric Stephen explains over at the dot-com.
  • For as much money as the Dodgers spend, they didn’t make it this far because of their big contracts. The two players who won them the NLCS — Justin Turner and Chris Taylor — were available on the scrap heap, and Los Angeles capitalized. Grant Brisbee reflects on how the team’s savvy signings and trades made it a juggernaut.

Today’s best pitching matchup

CC Sabathia (4.65 projected ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (3.93 projected ERA)

Game 7. Do-or-die. Two teams enter, one team leaves (and so does the other one, but later, and more dejectedly). The Astros and Yankees have traded blows in this series, neither of them willing to give in, and now things are all tied up at three victories apiece. Tonight, the clubs will square off in the final American League game of 2017.

Both of these pitchers have been around the block — Sabathia is 37, Morton 33 — and they each took a surprising step forward in 2017. The former moved away from his declining fastball, becoming a junk-balling lefty; the latter just decided to start throwing harder and has better results across the board. While neither is an ace, both are capable of giving their teams a solid start. Tonight, they’ll be more pressured than ever to make that happen.


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