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Launch angles — October 25, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Robert Hanashiro-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

Justin Turner elevates and celebrates to break the tie — +.084 cWPA

Gif via MLB.com

“All year long they looked to him to light the fire, and all year long he answered the demands.”

Those were the words Vin Scully spoke as Kirk Gibson walked to the plate in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, before his legendary home run. Every word of it now applies to Justin Turner. He was the best hitter amongst a team full of great hitters, leading the Dodgers with a 151 wRC+ in 2017. Turner also managed to post a higher walk rate than strikeout rate and join the vaunted .300/.400/.500 slash line club this season. So it’s rather incredible that as great as he was in the regular season, Turner has taken it up a notch in the playoffs.

Justin Turner in 2017: Regular Season vs. Playoffs

2017 PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2017 PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Regular Season 543 21 10.9% 10.3% .322 .415 .530 .400 151
Postseason 42 4 14.3% 16.7% .371 .476 .714 .492 212
Data via FanGraphs

As Justin Turner goes, the Dodgers go. And in Game 1, with both teams in the midst of a 1-1 pitcher’s duel, Turner lit the fire in the sixth inning.

With two outs, Chris Taylor drew a five pitch walk to bring Turner to the plate. Dallas Keuchel had collected a strike out and a pop-up in Turner’s first two at bats, but despite that early success, he still wasn’t going to give the redhead anything to hit. Keuchel started Turner off with two cutters inside — one for a ball and one for a whiff — and followed with a two-seam fastball down and away that received a very generous strike call from home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi. The count was 1-2, Turner wasn’t happy, and Keuchel was in the driver’s seat — or so you’d think.

With a hitter like Turner, who has developed incredible plate discipline and the ability to hit the ball hard no matter where it is in the zone, it’s hard to say a pitcher is ever in the driver’s seat against him. Keuchel went back to an inside cutter with his fourth offering, and while it certainly wasn’t what you’d consider a meatball, the pitch was in a place where Turner could do what he does best, elevate.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

On most nights at Dodger Stadium this batted ball is probably a routine, fly-ball out; and Turner admitted as such after the game. But this wasn’t a normal October night, the temperature at first pitch was 103 degrees, and when it’s hot in LA the ball carries at Dodger Stadium. This particular ball left Turner’s bat at 96 miles per hour with a launch angle of 37 degrees. According to Statcast, that combination carries with it a middling .283 wOBA and a home run probability of just 13 percent.

The weather played a huge role in the most pivotal play of Game 1, but so did the fact that Justin Turner has turned into one of the best hitters in baseball. Dallas Keuchel was tremendous, and it wasn’t even a mistake pitch that burned him. Turner turned on a tough pitch on the inner-third, put it in the air, and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Yesterday’s best pitching performance

Clayton Kershaw — game score of 78

Gif via MLB.com

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.

As someone who lives in Los Angeles and frequents Dodger Stadium, I can say that one of the great things about it is seeing all of the baseball legends who grace the halls with frequency. And no legend is more ubiquitous than Don Newcombe. He’s at almost every home game, sitting in the owner’s box during batting practice, talking with the many players and coaches who venture over to say hello. So it goes without saying the the Dodgers’ legend was in attendance for Game 1 of the World Series.

Quick chat with Newk before the game. #WorldSeries #ThisTeam | : @jon.soohoo

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

I’m bringing up Newcombe in the section that should be devoted to Clayton Kershaw for good reason. On Tuesday night, Kershaw became just the second pitcher in World Series history to strike out 11 hitters and walk no one; joining the great Don Newcombe, who was in attendance. Baseball is the coolest sometimes.

As for the nitty-gritty of Kershaw’s narrative-killing start. He threw 84 pitches over seven innings and allowed only three hits with the aforementioned 11 strikeouts and zero walks. Kershaw’s lone mistake was an elevated 1-1 fastball over the heart of the plate that Alex Bregman drove into the left-field pavilion.

The Astros were kept off-balance all night as Kershaw pounded the zone with all of his pitch types. He only generated 8 swinging strikes, but collected 24 called strikes, including a called strike three on six of his 11 strike outs. Passivity proved a costly mistake in approach for Houston.

Zone Plots via Baseball Savant

Kershaw joined the illustrious company of Don Newcombe by one measure, and when you factor in the low hit total he allowed on Tuesday, it becomes an even more impressive performance.

In his first ever World Series start, Clayton Kershaw delivered in a huge way for the Dodgers. But to be honest, it’s exactly the type of performance you expect and need from your ace and the man still considered by most to be the best pitcher on the planet. Hopefully this truly will be the end of any “Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the playoffs” arguments; to perpetuate that narrative at this point to practice willful ignorance.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Chris Taylor — 447 feet

Gif via MLB.com

It didn’t take long for Chris Taylor to make his presence felt in Game 1 as the the NLCS co-MVP jumped on the first pitch Dallas Keuchel threw and drove it three-quarters of the way up the left-field pavilion. Earlier we talked about how Justin Turner’s dinger was helped by the weather, but Taylor’s blast would’ve cleared the wall on even a cold October night.

The ball left Taylor’s bat at 107 miles per hour and had a launch angle of 32 degrees. Those hit characteristics carry a 93 percent home run probability and the only two instances of similar batted balls not resulting in a dinger were a robbed home run in 2016 and a triple in April of this year, both of which were hit to center field. Seeing as Taylor pulled his ball to left, it was a no-doubter off the bat.

After the game Taylor provided a simple explanation for his first-pitch home run.

An 88 mile per hour fastball down in the zone but still over the plate, combined with the intention to swing at any pitch worth swinging at in that singular moment, equaled a quick 1-0 lead for the Dodgers. An early lead didn’t help the Cubs in any of the four NLCS games in which they jumped ahead first, and it didn’t prevent the Astros from tying Game 1 later, but after the game the Dodgers players did seem to indicate that it helped settle their World Series nerves.

Taylor had a plan as he stepped to the plate, and Keuchel threw him a pitch that allowed the Dodgers’ lead-off hitter to put that plan into action. We’ve come a long way from Chris Taylor: light-hitting, Quad-A utility player. Now he’s mashing taters in the World Series; and admit it, that’s way more fun.

Gif via MLB.com

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Justin Verlander (3.79 projected ERA) vs. Rich Hill (3.51 projected ERA)

There’s no pitcher the Astros would rather have on the mound as they look to even up the World Series at one. Justin Verlander has been incredible so far this postseason as he’s thrown 24 23 innings and posted a minuscule 1.46 ERA and 2.59 FIP. Verlander’s 25.8 percent strikeout rate is identical to his regular season mark, but he’s chopped two percentage points off of his walk rate to drop it to 6.5 percent in the playoffs. In August the Dodgers traveled to Detroit for interleague play, so they have seen Verlander once this year, but they were dominated by the hard-throwing 34-year-old on that day.

Looking to give the Dodgers a 2-0 series lead will be Rich Hill. In sharp contrast to his opponent, the soft-tossing left-hander has thrown just nine innings in the postseason thus far. That’s partly due to his only having made two starts, but also because the Dodgers have had a quick hook with Hill. And why not? They have an exceptional and well-rested bullpen, it makes complete sense to remove the 37-year-old Hill at the first sign of trouble or fatigue.

The only thing Tuesday’s starting pitchers have in common is that they are both old — in baseball terms, not life. Justin Verlander and Rich Hill could not be more different as pitchers, and that’s exactly what makes this such a fantastic and intriguing matchup.


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