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Launch angles — October 4, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

American League Wild Card Game - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/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

Didi Gregorius brings the Yankees back with a blast — +.200 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

The first inning of the AL Wild Card game between the Twins and Yankees was wild. Yankees ace Luis Severino was a huge disappointment as he recorded just one out before being pulled from the game. When the top half of the inning was over, the Twins had a 3-0 lead and the Yankees’ win expectancy sat at a demoralizing 26.5 percent. It was surely not where Joe Girardi and company had expected to be before they had even taken a swing.

A 3-0 deficit after the top of the first wasn’t ideal, but was hardly insurmountable, especially with Ervin Santana starting for the Twins. Santana had a nice season and is capable of twirling a gem, but he’s not the sort of pitcher who has opponents shaking in their cleats. Brett Gardner stepped in the box first and worked a walk. Aaron Judge followed with a single to center and the Yankees were in business.

With two on and no outs, Santana got Gary Sánchez to pop out, bringing Didi Gregorius to the plate. The 27-year old shortstop just had his best offensive season to date, with 25 home runs and a 107 wRC+ in 570 plate appearances. In fact, it’s the first time he’s posted a wRC+ above 100 in his career. This is no longer the glove-first Gregorius of years past, he’s now a legitimate threat at the plate.

Over the course of the six pitch at-bat, Santana threw Gregorius five fastballs but only one that he could do damage with — and do damage he did. Gergorius drove the 3-2, 95 mile per hour pipe-shot deep into the right field seats and just like that, it was a brand new ballgame.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

The win probability added for Gregorius’ home run isn’t overwhelming because it happened in the first inning and there was still plenty of game to be played, but it felt huge. The Yankees have one of, if not THE best bullpen in baseball, and to lose a three-run cushion in the first was a harbinger of doom for the Twins. Sure enough, the Yankees’ bullpen took the reins after that and did not let up.

Chart via FanGraphs

Yesterday’s best game score pitching performance

David Robertson

Gif via MLB.com

All year long we recognized the previous day’s best pitcher using game score. Of course game scores only apply to starting pitchers, and with Luis Severino and Ervin Santana combining for 2 13 innings and seven earned runs, I’m calling an audible today. Game score gives us a objective number to identify the best, but there will be no objectivity here; it’s my arbitrary decision to make. That said, I doubt there will be a lot of disagreement — David Robertson pitched the game of his life.

Chad Green came in to settle things down after Severino exited and did an admirable job, but he allowed three of the first four hitters in the top of the 3rd to reach base and Joe Girardi had to make a move. Robertson entered and got the next two hitters out while only one of the inherited runners scored.

Starting the fourth inning completely clean, Robertson began his run of dominance. He would throw three more scoreless frames, allowing three hits and one walk while striking out five. In a game that saw both starters chased early, it was going to come down to which bullpen could deliver quality and length, and Robertson did both.

This season Robertson threw his curveball 45.9 percent of the time, which is by far a career high, but not even close to what he did on Tuesday. Of his 52 total pitches, Robertson threw 34 curveballs(!!), good for a 65.4 percent usage rate. It makes sense to lean on a pitch if it’s really working on a given night, and boy was it working for Robertson. In his 3 13 innings of work Robertson collected a staggering 11 swinging strikes, nine of which came against his curveball.

Zone Plots via Baseball Savant

He didn’t start the game so he doesn’t get a game score, but David Robertson was dominant for an extended period of time in the highest leverage game of the year, so it’s an easy call to recognize him in this space. Plus, he gave us this picture, which will live on for years to come.

American League Wild Card Game - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Brett Gardner — 393 feet

Gif via MLB.com

The biggest play of the day belonged to Didi Gregorius and the biggest home run of the day almost went to him as well. But Brett Gardner, clearly knowing that Launch Angles is best served by highlighting different plays and players, bested his teammate by two feet to capture the longest home run from Tuesday’s AL Wild Card game.

The best part of this home run isn’t the home run itself — although it was important and temporarily broke a tie — but rather Brett Gardner’s reaction upon smashing it down the line. The previous pitch was a 95 mile per hour fastball that brushed Gardner back, so while there probably wasn’t any malice behind the pitch from Santana, Gardner was understandable amped to crush the very next pitch. We certainly don’t want fights, but a little chippiness in the playoffs can be fun. A bat drop and a stare down? That’ll work.

Gif via MLB.com

On Tuesday, Yankee Stadium lived up to it’s reputation as a bandbox where even some routine fly balls can sneak out as the AL Wild Card game featured five home runs, but none over 400 feet. Gardner’s dinger didn’t crack 400, but 393 down the line is out in any ballpark. It’s only fitting that the first playoff game in the year of the home run saw five taters of it’s own. Here’s to an October filled with monster dingers.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jon Gray (4.17 projected ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (3.58 projected ERA)

For those unfamiliar with Rockies starter Jon Gray, my colleague Devan Fink wrote an excellent primer on the young right-hander. He missed two and a half months early in the season, but did manage to make 20 starts and post a 3.67 ERA, a 3.18 FIP, and a 3.67 DRA. He has an above-average 24.3 strikeout rate, a below-average 6.5 percent walk rate, and calls Coors Field his home — impressive. Gray’s projected ERA doesn’t really do his talent justice. This was his break out season, so it’s only fitting he’ll get the ball for the Rockies’ biggest game.

Opposing the 25-year old Gray is the 33-year old Greinke, a playoff veteran who’s had plenty of success in October (with pitching, not covering third). In nine postseason starts, Greinke has a 3.58 ERA, a 3.35 FIP, a 23.3 percent strikeout rate, and a tiny 3.9 percent walk rate — he’s been tremendous. Greinke is a known quantity at this point and he’ll be pitching for the home team favorites, but Gray and the Rockies are an excellent team in their own right. This should be an first-rate matchup between two division rivals and two exceptional right-handed hurlers.


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