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Launch angles — October 29, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Ezra Shaw/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

Cody Bellinger opens the floodgates — +.095 cWPA

This game entered the 9th a pitching duel, and exited it as something adjacent to a blowout. This game had critical implications for the rest of the series — the difference between a 2–2 tie and a 3–1 deficit after Game Four should be obvious — so the Dodgers performance in the 9th (and specifically this Bellinger double) had an outsized impact on their odds of winning the Series. Before the double, they had about a 40 percent shot at winning the whole shebang; after the double, it was nearly 50 percent.

Remember when the Astros acquired the services of Ken Giles from the Phillies, between the 2015 and 2016 seasons? He was supposed to be a shut-down closer, Houston’s answer to the bullpen revolution. He’s been good, but it looks like those expectations were far too lofty, as Giles has also had his periodic struggles. Last night is an instructive example; Giles put two men on base before Bellinger and was pulled after this hit, leaving the game without recording a single out. This pitch was a 96mph fastball that didn’t go over the zone but straight through it, sending Bellinger an invitation he did not refuse. Giles also tried to catch the line drive that resulted with his bare hand, even though a) it was several feet away, and b) would’ve taken his arm off, or at least hurt his pitching hand pretty badly.

To this point, Bellinger has been struggling offensively this postseason. His OBP is below .300, and he’s struck out 20 times while walking just twice. That’s the thing about clutch hits, however: they do a lot to rehabilitate your reputation. Bellinger is the hero after last night, and I doubt anyone’s going to bring up his struggles anytime soon.

Yesterday’s best game score

Charlies Morton — 76

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.

Alex Wood’s start got most of the attention as it was happening, because it was a no-hitter and people love those. But it was a no-hitter that was broken up in the sixth inning (not that rare) and a no-hitter that featured just three strikeouts and two walks, good for a game score of 62 (not that impressive). Really, it was Wood’s opponent, Charlie Morton, who had the best pitching performance of the night. Morton went 6 and 13, allowing just three hits while striking out seven and walking none. He probably shouldn’t have come out for the 7th — Morton faced just two batters, getting Justin Turner to groundout before giving up a double to Bellinger, who would go on to score after Will Harris joined the game — but even with that blemish, this was a great start.

Morton relied almost entirely on his fastball and curve, using the two in tandem effectively. His fastball command was excellent, as the gif above shows; Morton had an impressive 13 called strikes with the pitch, as he painted the corners and took advantage of Brian McCann’s framing abilities. He combined that with a curveball that overlapped substantially with the fastball, giving batters a devil of a time when trying to figure out what pitch was coming and how to react.

Thus far, this World Series has been notable for the quality of its starting pitching. We’ve seen the aces of Kershaw and Keuchel, but the supporting cast on both sides has additionally been outstanding. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising; you don’t make it this far in the playoffs unless you’re a really good team, with a lot of available depth. Still, it makes for great TV, even on the days when the big names aren’t pitching.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Joc Pederson — 408 feet

Here was another of the Dodgers young guns, taking the game that Bellinger had opened up and putting it out of reach. Giles had been pulled, so Pederson was facing Joe Musgrove, who has his strengths but is not really a lights-out reliever. This pitch wasn’t that different from the one Bellinger got — a fastball that wasn’t below or above the zone but right in the middle of it — but the result was far worse for Houston. Before, this game still felt winnable; after, the bottom of the 9th felt like nothing more than a formality.

Pederson hasn’t had much playing time this October, as he’s coming off a disappointing sophomore effort. It’s only been the last two games, played in an American League park and thus with a spot in the lineup for a DH, that Pederson has had a regular position. But he’s hit very well, with two home runs in just 16 plate appearances. Grant Brisbee’s recap of this game focused on the redemption of Cody Bellinger, but Joc Pederson was redeeming himself just as much, albeit for struggles in the regular season rather than the postseason.

I expected to root for the Astros for the entirety of this series, what with the Dodgers being about as far from underdogs as you can get. But that’s true of them collectively; as Sam Miler pointed out, each individual Dodger is an underdog, and that’s especially true of the youngsters like Bellinger and Pederson. As a mostly disinterested observer, it’s impossible to watch them succeed on a stage like this and not feel happy for them.

SABRy tidbits

  • MLB suspended Yuli Gurriel five games for his racist gesture yesterday, but is delaying the suspension until the start of next season. That might feel really frustrating, like a capitulation to the demands of the game over basic human respect, but as Grant lays out, there really wasn’t much of an alternative. The appeals process is structured such that, if Gurriel was suspended during the postseason, he could’ve (and would’ve) appealed and delayed the suspension until next season anyway. That outcome might still be frustrating! If it is, I would humbly suggest perhaps looking to something other than punishment as your main way of combatting racism in the future. If MLB felt like exercising an option other than suspension with Gurriel, it might not have been delayed, and we might not be having this conversation. But because suspension is the only arrow in MLB’s quiver, there’s no satisfaction to be had in situations like this.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Clayton Kershaw (2.69 projected ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel (3.74 projected ERA)

This matchup gave us a great Game One, and there’s no reason to think it won’t give us a great Game Five. Kershaw is finally quieting his haters with several dominant postseason starts, and he remains the odds-on favorite to blow through any lineup he faces. But Keuchel has continued to impress this postseason as well, and he’s more than capable of giving Kershaw a run for his money. Whoever wins this game will have a massive advantage as the series shifts back to L.A.; it’s probably the most important game of either pitcher’s life. It should be fun, is what I’m saying.